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Florida Inches Closer to Other States in Tuition Charged Undocumented Students

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Undocumented students in Florida are one step closer to paying the same college tuition rates as residents, which would mirror what most other state with large numbers of such students already do.

A bill allowing undocumented students to pay in-state tuition at Florida public colleges and universities passed the Florida Senate on Thursday, May 1.  The vote was 26-13.

The bill, HB 851, was passed with amendments and was returned to the House for final review.  If enacted, Florida will be the 21st state to offer in-state tuition to undocumented students.

Currently, residency for tuition purposes is determined individually by Florida schools.  In most cases, undocumented students must pay out-of-state rates, which can be three to four times higher than in-state, regardless of how long they have lived in Florida.

Florida Board of Governors staff said Florida International University has made use of statutory waivers to offer the lower rates to qualifying students, specifically referencing Florida Statute 1009.26(9):

Each university board of trustees is authorized to waive tuition and out-of-state fees for purposes that support and enhance the mission of the university. All fees waived must be based on policies that are adopted by university boards of trustees pursuant to regulations adopted by the Board of Governors. Each university shall report the purpose, number, and value of all fee waivers granted annually in a format prescribed by the Board of Governors.

FIU’s Office of Undergraduate Admission confirmed the school uses the statute to waive fees for students with Deferred Action Childhood Arrival (DACA) status, which is offered to people who arrived in the United States before they turned 16 and have continuously lived in the country since arriving.

Under 8 U.S. Code s. 1621, undocumented students cannot receive state postsecondary benefits, like scholarships, unless the state enacts a law that explicitly makes them eligible.   Florida has not enacted such a law, but the Florida Immigrant Coalition notes undocumented students may be eligible for various private scholarships.

Florida has the fifth highest amount of DACA students in the country with 25,720 students accepted for consideration and 20,565 students approved for DACA status, according to a 2013 report (PDF) from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

The states with the most DACA students, California and Texas, also have the longest history of offering in-state tuition to undocumented students.

California Dream Act

The California Dream Act is made of three bills: AB 540, AB 130, and AB 131.  AB 540 passed in October 2001, allowing undocumented students to pay in-state tuition at public colleges and universities.  In 2011, AB 130 and AB 131 were passed and extended state aid and waiver opportunities to undocumented students who otherwise meet all requirements.  Instead of filing a FAFSA, undocumented students fill out a CA Dream Act application.  The CA Dream Act laws guarantee confidentiality and “there are no checks and matches between the CA Dream Act Application and any federal databases.”

To qualify under the California Dream Act, students must:

  • Have attended a California high school for at least three years
  • Graduate from a California high school, or pass the California High School Proficiency Exam, or earn a GED
  • Enroll in an accredited higher education institution in California
  • Fill out an affidavit stating they have either filed or will file an application to legalize their immigration as soon as they are eligible

Texas Dream Act

Texas enacted HB 1403, also called the Texas Dream Act, in June 2001, making it the first state with a law allowing undocumented students to pay in-state tuition at public colleges and universities.  In 2005, SB 1528 expanded the law to allow qualifying students — citizens, permanent residents, and undocumented alike — to establish independent residency claims.

To qualify under the Texas DREAM Act, students must:

  • Graduate from a Texas high school or earn their GED while living in Texas
  • Have lived in Texas in 36 months leading up to high school graduation or GED completion
  • Live in Texas 12 consecutive months prior to enrolling at college or university
  • Provide institution with affidavit stating their intent to become a U.S. permanent resident or citizen as soon as they are eligible

Students who are classified as Texas residents under these laws can also qualify for state financial aid.

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s 2013 report (PDF) found 20,049 students, or 1.1 percent of total public institution enrollment, qualified for in-state tuition through these laws in the 2012 fiscal year.  In the same year, the Coordinating Board estimated the state spent nearly $18 million in institutional support funding and $9.5 million in state-supported grant aid.

Other states with laws or policies allowing undocumented students to pay in-state tuition: Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, Oklahoma, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Mexico, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Utah, Washington.

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