In-state tuition, financial aid in sight for undocumented students
Proposal gained support from immigrant advocates, business community
AFTER TWO DECADES of advocacy on Beacon Hill, Massachusetts is set to join about two dozen other states in removing a high-profile barrier to undocumented students in higher education.
The final $56.2 billion compromise budget for fiscal year 2024 includes a Senate provision that would allow all students, regardless of immigration status, to qualify for in-state tuition rates at Massachusetts public colleges or universities. Both chambers handily voted the document through on Monday afternoon, sending it to Gov. Maura Healey for consideration.
Though the program is a significant expansion of current tuition programs, which only allowed students who are Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients to access in-state tuition for higher education, not every student will be eligible. Students must have attended a Massachusetts high school for at least three years or obtained their GED in the state.
Non-citizen and non-permanent resident students must also submit an affidavit saying, under penalty of perjury, that they have applied for citizenship or legal permanent residence or will do so within four months of being eligible for that status. Federal financial aid is still reserved only for the documented, but these students would be able to access state financial aid under the new policy.
Tuition equity, Rodrigues spokesperson Sean Fitzgerald said, has led to increased academic achievement, reduced drop-out rates, increased college attendance, and raised student incomes and tax contributions in states that implement it. Those states, and Washington D.C., span red and blue regions alike – including California, Connecticut, Florida, Rhode Island, and Texas.
Massachusetts lawmakers, educators, immigration groups, and business leaders have been agitating for the change with increasing fervor over the past few years. Earlier standalone bills to change the tuition rules floundered, not even put to a floor vote since the mid 2000s.
But momentum did build. Organizations like the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy (MIRA) Coalition and public education leaders like UMass Boston Chancellor Marcelo Suárez-Orozco argued that the state was needlessly cutting off potential students and workers at a time of declining enrollment and economic uncertainty.
Its passage “marks a historic moment for so many of our students,” said Elizabeth Sweet, MIRA’s executive director. “Massachusetts is now one step closer to ensuring that higher education is far more equitable and accessible for all residents, regardless of immigration status. By allowing all eligible immigrants the opportunity to access in-state tuition and financial aid at public colleges and universities, Massachusetts will not only empower immigrant communities but increase school attendance and better prepare our workforce for the future.”
An analysis by the business-backed Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation earlier this year estimated a net gain of $3.5 million in new revenue for community colleges, state universities, and the University of Massachusetts in the policy’s first year of implementation.
“We think it makes sense,” said the group’s president, Doug Howgate, citing declining enrollments in higher education at the same time” as workforce shortages climb. “We need to be taking advantage of all the populations in Massachusetts,” he said.
The declining enrollment, in particular, means “a lot of capacity in the system,” he said, and the relatively small boost in revenue from enrollment fees is still a net positive. Though there is a slight risk that the financial aid demand could outpace appropriated funds, Howgate said, the Legislature’s consistent willingness to back financial aid programs indicates that Massachusetts should be able to meet and bear any increased demand.
Legislators “clearly recognize the importance of UMass and public higher education to sustaining the Commonwealth’s nation-leading innovation economy,” said UMass President Marty Meehan in a statement. As for the in-state tuition change, Meehan said, “besides giving real hope to young people who are pursuing the American Dream through education, it will enhance the life of our UMass campuses and strengthen the Massachusetts economy, which faces serious talent pipeline challenges.”With both chambers giving the compromise budget their stamp of approval, it moves along to Gov. Healey’s desk. The in-state tuition change faces almost zero chance of opposition from the corner office.
In remarks on Greater Boston earlier this year, Healey said the change is “absolutely essential and a no-brainer.”