In-State Tuition and Illegal Immigrants, What is the Cost?

By: Nicole Danner

According to the U.S. Department of Education, approximately six percent (4.7 million students) of the total student population (pre-k through postsecondary education) are foreign born individuals, and an additional twenty million students are children of foreign born parents.  In 2012 the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was announced. This program allows students who came to the U.S. as children, and who meet certain guidelines, to request consideration of deferred immigration enforcement action for a period of two years (subject to renewal).  Under this deferred action the student is not considered unlawfully present for the two-year period. The deferred action does not, however, provide the student with lawful status.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, three-quarters of the fastest growing occupations require education beyond a high school diploma.  Based on current headlines, how illegal immigrants pay for such education has become quite controversial.

In Washington, D.C., new legislation was introduced to the council at the University of the District of Columbia which would allow illegal immigrants who meet certain requirements to receive in-state tuition and local financial aid.  However, legislation was also introduced in Congress in September.  This legislation (H.R. 3566) is to prevent states from providing illegal immigrants in-state tuition benefits, much like the benefits the University of the District of Columbia is trying to provide currently.  According to the Congressional Research Service, there is an Act in place (the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act) that prevents states from providing postsecondary education benefits to illegal immigrants based on residence unless all U.S. citizens are eligible for such benefits, regardless of their state of residence.  The Congressmen in support of H.R. 3566 argue that states have created “loopholes” to circumvent this federal law.

In the middle of this tug-of-war are universities and, of course, immigrant students.  In Georgia thirty-nine illegal immigrant students filed lawsuits against colleges and universities seeking access to in-state tuition.  These students were granted temporary permission to stay in the U.S. under DACA.  The Georgia university system Board of Regents, however, has said that such students do not meet the requirement of “lawful presence” necessary to receive in-state tuition.  This case is working its way through the Georgia courts and is pending a decision.  In Missouri, immigrant students are suing three public colleges for changing their cost in tuition prompted by a new state law requiring colleges that receive state funding to charge students without a lawful immigration status nothing less than the international rate of tuition.  In response, one college stated it “is not making policy . . .  [but is] following the rules and regulations put forth by our lawmakers.”  That same college has also stated it is setting aside approximately $250,000 to help offset the cost of increased tuition for the affected students.  This case is also pending in the state court system.

There is disagreement as to what rights illegal immigrants have when it comes to eligibility for in-state tuition.  Until either the courts make a decision or Congress “fills the gap” pointed out by the Congressmen, the universities and immigrant students are left in the middle trying to figure out what to do.


Educational Resources for Immigrants, Refugees, Asylees and Other New Americans, U.S. Department of Education, (last visited Oct. 17, 2015).

Immigrants Sue Missouri Colleges Over Higher Tuition Rate, News-Leader Missouri News (Oct. 14, 2015),

Josh Fatzick, DC Wants to Give Illegal Immigrants In-State Tuition, The Daily Caller, (Oct. 8, 2015),

Kate Brumback, Immigrants Seeking In-State Tuition Want Court to Hear Case, Diverse Issues in Higher Education (Oct. 11, 2015),

Steven D. Smith, Gosar Introduces Legislation Against Allowing Illegal Immigrants to Receive In-State Tuition, Current News (Sept. 20, 2015),

Walter C. Jones, Illegal Immigrants ask Georgia Supreme Court for Right to sue Over Denial of In-State Tuition, Jacksonville News (Oct. 16, 2015),

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s