Grant undocumented students in-state tuition


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Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, sponsored a bill last week that would allow undocumented immigrants the opportunity to receive in-state tuition for Iowa’s public universities and community colleges.

The bill requires that the students graduate from an Iowa high school and sign an affidavit promising to pursue legal citizenship at the earliest opportunity.

This bill would not only improve the lives of many immigrants, it would allow for greater economic development in the state. The Iowa Senate must pass this bill by no later than Jan. 1, 2014, so that Iowans by choice will have equal opportunities to higher education and the Iowa economy may improve.

“Iowa’s economic prosperity is dependent on having a skilled, educated workforce,” Bolkcom said. “It is about our economic futures together, and these kids have been part of our communities and graduated from our high schools; these immigrant kids need a path to our community colleges and public universities.”

Economically, granting in-state tuition to undocumented students increases the number of people in our state with a higher education and therefore increases the amount of skilled labor in Iowa.

“We have a person-power problem and a skill shortage,” Bolkcom said. “Some of these kids graduating are among the brightest in their class, but right now, there is a cloud over these youngsters, and this legislation is a sign that these kids ought to have a path to college if they choose it.”

Undocumented immigrants are historically at high risks of poverty, but education is one way out of poverty. Rather than paying welfare, if more students were able by law to attend college, Iowa could generate higher tax revenue and have fewer welfare recipients.

The Iowa Policy Research Organization found that in several other states that have already enacted similar legislation, they saw savings and gains from allowing students in-state tuition.

For example, Texas began offering in-state tuition rates to undocumented immigrants in 2001. The research organization found that in 2005 alone, the amount Texas generated from collecting tuition from undocumented immigrants paying in-state rates was approximately $1.5 billion. That same year, the total cost of providing state services was only $1.1 billion. By allowing undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition, Texas gained $424 million in one year. 

“If we do not have enough people with the right skills, then existing Iowa businesses will be in trouble, and we will not have the resources to take care of education, or roads, or senior citizens,” Bolkcom said. “Not only is this the right thing to do morally, it’s economically in the best interest of every Iowan.”

But the moral concerns should be considered as well.

 “It’s just really hard because you know people who have been raised the same as you have, but you have in-state tuition when they can’t afford it,” said Jessica Padilla, the president of University of Iowa Association of Latinos Moving Ahead. “It is really hard to justify why they wouldn’t be able to come to this university.”

Education should not be denied to anyone who is willing to work hard enough to earn it. These immigrants deserve a chance to improve themselves and their communities throughout the state of Iowa.

“You may as well give them a shot at an education,” Padilla said. “This is the country of opportunities.”

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