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Lawmakers consider in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants

Supporters of a bill allowing undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition at Minnesota public colleges wear signs that say "I am SF 723 - HF 875" during a Tuesday, April 2, 2013, meeting. (Forum News Service photo by Danielle Killey)

ST. PAUL – More students could attend college if a plan allowing undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition at public colleges is approved, a Minnesota lawmaker argues.

“We want to eliminate the achievement gap so that students who have not traditionally been going to college are going to college,” said Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul. “We need them in our future workforce.”

Students who went to high school in Minnesota for at least three years and graduated would be able to pay in-state tuition at state schools, such as the University of Minnesota and those in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, under Pappas’ plan. Those students also would be able to apply for some state financial aid.

Pappas said many of the students who would be affected by the change are from low-income families.

“It will be difficult for these students to go to college even with in-state tuition,” Pappas said, but the lower cost will help.

At the University of Minnesota’s Twin Cities campus, for example, Minnesota residents pay roughly $6,000 per semester, about $2,600 less than nonresident students.

The students must have applied to legalize their U.S. immigration status or do so as soon as possible to be eligible for the lower tuition.

“We are really encouraging students to move toward legality as soon as it’s available,” Pappas said Tuesday at a Senate committee hearing.

The University of Minnesota and MnSCU have said they will absorb any extra costs for them associated with the proposed change, Pappas said.

Her plan, referred to as the Minnesota Dream Act or Minnesota Prosperity Act, would add Minnesota to a list of 14 states with similar provisions.

Sen. Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen, said she thinks the legislation is premature.

“I am compelled by the stories I’ve heard” from students, Ortman said, but “we don’t know what the federal government is going to do” on immigration reform issues.

Some committee members also said language about the legalization application requirements was too vague.

Pappas said she has worked on this plan for the past 10 years or so and has put it before lawmakers multiple times.

She could be more successful now. The Legislature is controlled by Democrats with a governor of the same party for the first time in more than two decades.

Supporters of the plan, many of whom wore signs that said “I am SF 723 HF 875,” referring to Pappas’ bill and a companion in the House, packed the committee room Tuesday. Lawmakers plan to hear the House version of the bill in their higher education committee today.

The Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee moved the bill forward on a voice vote Tuesday. Chairwoman Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka, said she is considering including it in an overall higher education plan.

Danielle Killey

Danielle Killey covers local government for the South Washington County Bulletin. She has worked as a reporter for other Forum Communications newspapers since 2011. She graduated from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities with a journalism degree.

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