ANN ARBOR (CBS Detroit/AP) – As another school year gets under way, it’s business as usual at the University of Michigan, the first public university in the state to allow undocumented aliens to pay in-state tuition.
The change happens in January, and so far the university has made no plans to track the number of undocumented students who fill State Street and South University this winter semester.
“We don’t ask people what their citizenship status is when they apply or when they enroll,” said spokeswoman Deborah Greene.
The university decided in July to let immigrants living in the country illegally pay lower, in-state tuition, a victory for activists who said one of the nation’s most prestigious schools is financially out of a reach for high school graduates living in the state without legal permission.
To get in-state tuition, students just have to prove they attended middle and high school in Michigan, not that they were born in the United States. In-state tuition and fees is $13,100 a year compared to nearly $40,400 for out-of-state.
This follows other top public colleges like the University of Texas and the University of California, where students qualify for in-state tuition if they went to state high schools regardless of citizenship status. The U-M Board of Regents voted 6-2 along party lines to make the change after some students waged a year-plus campaign for “tuition equality” that featured silent protests and other public demonstrations.
The proposal also allows members of the military to receive in-state tuition, regardless of where they live.
“These students want nothing more than what my family wanted and what every other student wants, which is to launch their lives from this university. These are students who have in most instances spent virtually all of their lives in Michigan,” said regent Mark Bernstein, in an Associated Press report.
Sixteen states have allowed in-state tuition rates for immigrants since 2001, including 14 that passed laws explicitly authorizing the moves, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Two OK’d it through governing board decisions.
Three states bar the students from qualifying for in-state tuition, and two others prohibit them from enrolling altogether in public universities.
Though Michigan hasn’t enacted legislation either allowing or prohibiting in-state tuition rates for people here illegally, a few of its smaller 15 public universities have been able to allow them to pay in-state tuition. That’s because they’re independent under the state’s constitution. Advocates are hoping a high-profile step by Michigan’s most prominent school — and one of the top public universities in the U.S. — will set the stage for others to follow.
“It’s going to put the University of Michigan on the map as a college that really puts into action what we say we believe,” said Laura Sanders, a faculty member.
One who hopes to attend the university is Javier Contreras, of Ann Arbor, who moved with his family to Michigan from Mexico when he was 4. The 18-year-old said he got into the school this year but would have had to pay out-of-state tuition because of his immigration status, so he’ll first attend a local community college on scholarship to study computer science.
“I’m going to try to finish my last two years at U of M now that I can afford it,” an elated Contreras told the AP.
His father, Jose, choked back tears while telling the board his family’s story, saying they came to escape poverty.
“He was a little boy when I bring him over to the United States,” he said. “I know you members of the University of Michigan (are) same as me, you also have kids. I know you wish the best for them. … I wish you can help us out and let these kids do their best because I know they have what it takes to become professionals.”
Regent Andrea Fischer Newman said she voted no because the matter is best left to the federal government. Critics in other states have said a 1996 federal law prohibits states from giving students who are living here illegally in-state tuition unless they charge everyone that rate.
“I’m concerned about whether this is appropriate under federal law and believe this type of national issue should be resolved at the federal level, although I am supportive of the expansion of in-state tuition for veterans who have served our nation,” she said.
(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)