Immigrants to Nebraska now enjoy in-state tuition

LINCOLN, Neb. (U-WIRE) – Every student has the right to pursue an education. Period.

That’s what some members of the Nebraska Legislature said when LB239, introduced by Sen. DiAnna Schimek of Lincoln, became a law in April 2006.

The legislation, which went into affect this month, allows the children of undocumented immigrants in Nebraska to pay in-state tuition at state colleges and universities, as long as they meet the necessary set of requirements.

And now that these students are officially eligible to receive the tuition break, university and state officials are waiting to see if the legislation will show some results.

Sen. Ray Aguilar of Grand Island said he had not yet heard whether or not any students had decided to take advantage of the in-state tuition rate, but he will meet with university officials in the near future to discuss the legislation’s influence.

Juan Franco, the vice chancellor for student affairs at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said he had not heard of any eligible students, who are also undocumented immigrants, enrolling for this semester, but he thought some would potentially enroll next semester.

University of Nebraska Regent Charles Wilson of Lincoln said the regents also have not seen any reports on whether or not any children of illegal immigrants are enrolling at the NU campuses and getting the tuition break.

The Board of Regents passed a resolution in June 2006 that approved a university-wide policy change to make NU standards reflect the legislation.

Wilson said the board first discussed endorsing investigation into the concept in 2005. During preliminary consideration, he said the board was presented with information from states already enforcing a similar policy.

“In the states that have done something similar to this, the numbers have been very small,” Wilson said.

He said many of these states only had dozens of students using the tuition breaks, and he was not expecting an immediate or large enrollment increase of undocumented immigrants at Nebraska schools.

Aguilar said he hoped future surveys and numbers would show how many Nebraska students are able to take advantage of the in-state tuition rate in order to see if the law has been beneficial in helping those students complete their educational goals.

It was important for many of the legislators to encourage a growing population of Nebraska students to continue their educational plans, Aguilar said. He said the legislation could also be beneficial to the state colleges and universities, as more students would be pursuing their degrees at Nebraska schools.

Wilson said when the regents discussed the legislation, there was concern over whether or not it was appropriate to allow the children of undocumented workers to have a lower tuition rate than students from neighboring states, who must pay out-of-state tuition. He said the board decided it was important to give these students an opportunity for higher education.

“If we do not allow these students to attend college with in-state tuition then we as a state will perpetuate an underclass of non-college educated people who are not going to be competitive in the 21st-century marketplace,” Wilson said.

Aguilar said some opponents of the legislation, as well as other pieces of legislation concerning the rights of illegal immigrants, have said undocumented immigrants should not be given the rights. Aguilar said he disagreed with this presumption, because the children of undocumented immigrants likely did not have a choice in where they currently live, and they have not committed a crime by being in the state.

“We’re not talking about criminals,” Aguilar said. “We’re talking about young people who want to better themselves.”