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States make their own tuition rules for undocumented students

A new law in Maryland allows illegal immigrants to pay in-state rates at public colleges. In neighboring Virginia, many are required to pay out-of-state fees. The lack of a comprehensive federal plan allows such discrepancies.

May 15, 2011|By Julie Mianecki, Washington Bureau

Andrew Flagel, dean of admissions at George Mason University, a public university in Fairfax, Va., said banning illegal immigrants from Virginia's public colleges would hurt the state.

"If you bar illegal immigrants from enrolling as out-of-state students, it doesn't create any new spaces," Flagel said. "In fact, it's revenue lost to the Virginia institutions and would actually possibly lower the amount of spaces available for Virginia students."

The Maryland law's primary sponsor, Sen. Victor Ramirez, a Democrat, said a state wastes its investment when it educates illegal immigrants through high school and then forces them to pay higher prices to attend a public college. The cost difference is significant: In-state tuition at the University of Maryland is $8,416 a year, but rises to $24,831 for students coming from out of state.

Proponents of more hard-line measures sell them as a way to drive illegal immigrants out of their states, but Ramirez believes they will stay where they are, only without a college education.

"These students, when they graduate, they're not going to go back to their home country, because this is all they know," Ramirez said. "They're going to end up being bus drivers or servers, cutting our grass, when they potentially could be doctors, lawyers, helping make Maryland more productive and have a stronger workforce."

Glynis Jordan, principal of Bladensburg High School in Maryland, said she favored the new law because "as an educator, this means that all of my students, both documented and undocumented, now have the pathway to go to college and pursue their dreams."

Gutierrez, who arrived from Guatemala and has lived in Maryland since she was 8, said she could not afford college were it not for the new law. "I feel really happy and grateful to everybody who worked so hard to do this. I feel like I can actually do something with my life now," she said.

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, signed the bill into law Tuesday, but it does not have universal support. Neil Parrott, a Republican state delegate, has started a petition drive to put the issue before voters.

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