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Wisconsin Legislature Should Allow In-State Tutition Rates For Undocumented Immigrants

June 12, 2011

Once again the topic of  college tuition has come up in regards to undocumented immigrants.  State lawmakers are looking at removing a provision approved two years ago under Governor Doyle that allowed some immigrants, mainly those who grew up in Wisconsin, to enter college by paying in-state tuition rates.  This past week the University of Wisconsin System stated it would abide by the changed law if the legislature passed it.

The problem all the way around, from the legislature’s willingness to upend a worthwhile educational effort to the UW System’s calm demeanor at swallowing a dreadful change, is that it is all very shortsighted.

Why should a bright and capable young person, who has successfully completed high school, and possesses the ability to attend a state university be denied in-state tuition rates simply because they came to Wisconsin from another country with their parents, having no ability as a child to make life decisions? Why should anyone wish to force these capable young and keen minds into a permanent economic underclass that will be their fate unless they find the education to meet the requirements of the ever-changing economy?

Are we short-changing society a cancer researcher, novelist, civic leader, or teacher by keeping a young person out of college?  We will never know if these young minds are not allowed to reach their full potential.  This Republican policy change for the UW System is not wise and it is not moral.

This is just not the way we should be treating each other, regardless of where we were born.  Some higher purpose should drive policy decisions than the color of our skin, or the sound of our last name. 

It is not logical to deny young minds that are college ready the opportunity to meet the challenges of the early part of the 21st century by denying them access to the UW system.  Often money is the factor that denies certain demographics learning opportunities.  While some may look at the in-state and out-state rates and say it is still possible for these immigrants to attend misses the mark about fairness and decency.  This matter is not only about economic fairness, but about the way we treat each other as members of society.

For those that are always eager to botton-line every issue let me clear that up too as a non-starter.

The UW System reports that only a few dozen out of more than 100,000 students have requested in-state tuition through this program.  This program is not the huge wasteful spending spree that will make or break the state budget.  Still there will be those who complain about the fiscal impact of this program.

To those people I ask them to consider the positive impact of education.

To create a class of educated immigrants with the potential to be future business people, doctors, designers, and everything in between that will only add to the tax base through self-sufficiency should be applauded by everyone.

There is no good reason to be mean to those who want nothing more than paying the same college tuition rates as others who also grew up in Wisconsin.

To deny an education for an undocumented immigrant is not a political statement. It is a moral failing.

3 Comments
  1. June 13, 2011 8:34 PM

    Agree with Deke for different reasons.

    There is no connection between one’s national status and residency. If one meets residency requirements then one should pay in-state tuition rates.

    Secondly, one pays state taxes regardless of national status, as I recall, and state taxes fund education. No education taxation without participation, I say.

  2. Ron Legro permalink
    June 13, 2011 8:23 PM

    I’m with ya on this, Deke. People too often confuse citizenship and residency. If you’re born in this country, and have lived in this country all your life, you ought to be treated accordingly. The thought experiment that should tell us all we need know is this: If legitimate American citizens NOT born on US soil can nevertheless enjoy the privileges of citizenship, how can you possibly diss a kid who through no choice of his or her own was born in the US? Oh, but yeah, I forgot: Conservatives have already decided that punishing the children of welfare mothers is good public policy, and THOSE kids ARE citizens. So why wouldn’t they want to punish the kids of other “unworthy” parents?

    But beyond just fairness and equity, this is, as you note, good public policy. Right this minute bidness leaders and politicians are running around telling us Wisconsin has a severe job placement problem and jobs mismatch crisis. Are they saying we don’t need more college-educated residents? Actually, I think they are, since they also seem very busy trying to dismantle the University of Wisconsin System.

  3. Patrick permalink
    June 12, 2011 9:44 PM

    While I have some sympathy for the student who has worked hard through elementary and high school, I think that the blame for their unfortunate situation rests with their parents. Presumably, they have already received tax-payer funded elementary and secondary education. This, I would assume, would have included a fundamantal education in the idea that America is a country governed by laws. When you break the laws there are consequences, sometimes for your children.

    How is it fair to provide the same rewards to individuals and their offspring who have disobeyed our laws, the same benefits as those who took the time and effort to show respect and immigrate to our country legally? I’m sure you would answer that we are blaming the children for the actions of the parents, but this is not the case. In the examples you mention–in an emotional appeal–the student has already benefitted greatly from their parents’ lies and deceptions. Most districts spend 10k per year to educate each student. They have a functional education at that point and should be willing to earn the rest. They are not “uneducated.” This is not being “mean.” When I go into a store and ask the owner for a huge discount I am not entitled to, it is not “mean” for him to say no, nor is it a moral failing.

    I’ll take my odds–slim to nothing–that the person who can’t pay tuition would have become a “cancer researcher.”

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