Case could set precedent on in-state tuition laws
The Oklahoman Editorial
Published: December 28, 2008
THE future of Oklahoma’s law allowing undocumented students to attend college at in-state tuition rates may rest in unlikely hands: the California Supreme Court.
Advocates and opponents of California’s law expect to know within the next several weeks if that state’s high court will take up the issue of whether granting in-state tuition to students who aren’t legal residents violates federal law. A lower court first dismissed the 2005 lawsuit brought by a group of out-of-state students. Earlier this year, an appellate court disagreed with that decision and sent it back to the lower court.
If it takes the case, California’s top court won’t have a final say on the constitutionality of Oklahoma’s law. Decisions in other state courts aren’t binding here. But it could establish a precedent for whether in-state tuition laws throughout the country will withstand legal challenges. A defeat of the law in California would undoubtedly encourage legal action elsewhere.
In addition to Oklahoma and California, eight states have laws that grant in-state tuition to undocumented students if they meet certain requirements. Opponents of the laws have argued that undocumented students should receive that rate only if it’s available to all students — including those who traditionally must pay out-of-state rates.
Until last year, Oklahoma even allowed undocumented students access to financial aid at state expense although few participated. House Bill 1804, the state’s landmark immigration reform bill, changed that. Students already receiving state-funded scholarships and tuition waivers were grandfathered in, but the changes cut off help for future students who couldn’t prove legal residency.
That was a step backward for higher education in Oklahoma. But it was better than what happened in Arkansas, where officials disbanded the in-state rate for illegal immigrants and raised tuition even for current students. Private fundraising efforts are seeking to cushion the blow for affected students so they’ll be able to finish their educations.
Some states have gone so far as to ban undocumented students, according to stateline.org. Illegal immigrants can’t enroll at public universities in South Carolina or Alabama community colleges.
The country came to this potluck of policies regarding undocumented students in part because the federal government has been incredibly absent in reforming immigration laws. But there’s also a fair question about whether the feds have any business telling states how to go about college admissions and setting tuition rates.
Meantime, we’ll wait to see whether high courts at the state and federal levels wade into the issue and decide whether this land of opportunity will deny that hope to young people who became illegal immigrants only through the actions of their parents.
Some states have gone so far as to ban undocumented students, according to stateline.org.