May 22, 2023 - Education

Massachusetts lawmakers consider in-state tuition for undocumented students

<span style="background: #004EA230; padding: 2px 5px; color: #004EA2">In-state</span> and <span style="background: #68c9ff30; padding: 2px 5px; color: #1c98ea"">out-of-state</span> tuition prices at Massachusetts public colleges
Data: College websites; Chart: Jared Whalen/Axios

The Massachusetts Senate this week will debate a plan to offer in-state tuition and financial aid to undocumented high schoolers.

Why it matters: Immigration activists, Senate President Karen Spilka and Gov. Healey say Massachusetts is falling behind states that have used the policy to expand their workforces.

  • Senate Democrats have said they believe the policy would be a net gain financially for the state because it would help public colleges that have struggled to preserve their enrollment numbers.

The big picture: 23 states and Washington, D.C. have "tuition equity" laws or policies, including a number of red states.

Massachusetts in 2012 extended in-state tuition prices to young immigrants with certain federal protections, like Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and temporary protected status. But those students didn’t have access to state financial aid.

Zoom in: DACA recipients over the past decade have juggled multiple jobs, loans and school or have opted out of college here altogether.

Estefany Pineda, a DACA recipient, qualified for in-state tuition in 2016. But she still owed some $14,000 in tuition payments, not counting books and transportation costs.

  • Pineda almost didn’t go to college. She said yes last minute to UMass Boston after learning she won a four-year scholarship that covered more than half of the balance.

What they’re saying: “Even then, the prices are so crazy that it was so difficult. I can’t imagine how much more difficult it is for undocumented students,” says Pineda, now a membership coordinator at the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition.

  • She obtained her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in five years, juggling full-time work with a full course load three of those years.

Pineda says her cousin isn't so lucky. She was too young to apply to DACA when it was available, and her only options are to pay the out-of-state tuition or forego college altogether.

By the numbers: It’s unclear how many students in Massachusetts would qualify. K-12 schools do not track students' immigration status, but the Higher Immigration Portal estimates Massachusetts higher education institutions had 11,632 undocumented and DACA-eligible students in 2019.

  • That estimate doesn’t factor K-12 students who have migrated with their family members in recent years.
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