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Why Providing In-state Tuition for Undocumented Students is the Way to Go

By Idalmi Acosta

I was the first in my family to go to college, to travel, and to have a career as a teacher. I want my students to have the same opportunities, but not all of them will.

Undocumented students who live in Indiana have to pay out-of-state tuition to go to college. This makes college out of reach for many of them. As a teacher, I cannot stand by and watch us deny thousands of students a chance to live out their dream of going to college by making them pay more for the same education their peers and classmates receive as Indiana residents.

These students are hard workers with hopes for the future. They are students like Talia, who has lived in Indiana since she was two years old and who dreams of becoming a bilingual nurse. Talia wants to work with people who come from other countries and who need help communicating with doctors. I know Talia, who can hardly afford in-state tuition, is worried about her ability to become a nurse and pursue her dream.

Granting undocumented students access to in-state tuition rates will give them an incentive to complete high school, attend college, and eventually contribute to our state’s economy. Each year, 1.2 million students drop out of high school, according to the Alliance for Excellent Education, a philanthropic nonprofit that advocates for underserved students. High school dropouts earn much less throughout their lives than their classmates who graduate high school, costing states $319 billion in lost wages. According to a 2005 report from the American Association for State Colleges and Universities, failing to help students attend college results in higher costs to state prisons and state welfare systems. Providing undocumented students access to in-state tuition will result in universities getting an increased amount of revenue they would not have otherwise received, and the state getting tax revenue from the graduates.

During this legislative session, several legislators including Rep. Earl Harris, Jr. (D-East Chicago), Sen. David Niezgodski (D-South Bend), and Sen. J.D. Ford (D-Zionsville) filed three separate bills that would grant undocumented students access to in-state tuition. All three bills required that, to receive in-state tuition, undocumented students have to submit an affidavit with the state educational institution showing they have submitted an application for citizenship. The bill authored by Rep. Earl Harris went even further by adding a provision for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, stating that “an individual who is authorized by the federal government to work in the United States” can also receive in-state tuition. Unfortunately, all three of these bills died in committee.

If we as a state were to pass legislation of this nature, it would go a long way toward ensuring Indiana’s undocumented students can attain a college education. As a nurse, Talia would help Spanish-speaking patients communicate with doctors and get the health care they need. Shouldn’t she be afforded this opportunity to succeed? We must give talented and passionate young people across Indiana the chance to become productive citizens in our society. We must give them a chance to attend college.


Idalmi Acosta teaches 8th grade ELA at Harshman Magnet Middle School in Indianapolis. She is a Teach Plus Indianapolis Teaching Policy Fellowship alumna.