BOSTON – Allowing undocumented residents who graduate from Massachusetts high schools to attend public colleges and universities at lower in-state tuition rates could help thousands of students secure a more stable financial footing and mitigate declining enrollment, supporters of the policy change said Tuesday.
After years of debate and little momentum, lawmakers once again have legislation before them that would extend in-state tuition rates — which are thousands of dollars per year lower than out-of-state rates — to undocumented students who attended a Bay State high school for at least three years and graduated.
Amy Grunder, director of legislative affairs for the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, told the Legislature’s Higher Education Committee that 21 other states, including neighbors New York, Rhode Island and Connecticut, have implemented similar policies since her group first began backing it here in 2003.
“These states are not outliers,” Grunder said. “They are pragmatic and they are fair, and it’s past time that we join them.” In 2018, Massachusetts had about 13,000 undocumented children under the age of 17 enrolled in public schools, Grunder said, all of whom would be unable to attend a community college, state university or UMass school at in-state resident tuition rates under current law.
The bills continue to draw criticism from illegal immigration opponents who contended Tuesday that the change would incentivize and reward undocumented immigration.
Republican Rep. Marc Lombardo, of Billerica, has a bill before the panel that would prohibit an undocumented resident from accessing in-state tuition.
While Democrats in Massachusetts have been outspoken on national immigration issues, Beacon Hill legislative leaders over the years have often steered clear of bills favored by immigration reform activists.
Presented with vocal support and opposition, lawmakers have opted not to advance bills allowing undocumented immigrants to secure driver’s licenses or limiting law enforcement interaction with federal immigration authorities.