Immigrant Students Want to Learn!
Help Build Support for Tuition Equality
Many students are presently locked out, with dreams on hold — Each year, undocumented students graduate from Tennessee high schools with hopes of continuing their education and starting a career that benefits our state and strengthens our communities. However, no matter how long they have lived in Tennessee or what their potential is, undocumented Tennessee students must pay out-of-state rates that often total more than three times the tuition their in-state classmates pay to attend a public college or university—even if they meet the same residency requirements as their peers. For many this barrier is insurmountable.
An educated workforce benefits everyone — An equitable tuition policy would drive economic growth in the state and align with the Drive to 55 Initiative (the Governor’s campaign to get 55 percent of Tennesseans equipped with a college degree or certificate by the year 2025). Understanding that many businesses in Tennessee face skilled labor shortages, Chambers of Commerce across the state are demonstrating support for tuition equality because it will produce a more educated workforce, one better equipped to contribute productively to Tennessee’s economy. Tuition equality would also grow our tax base – individuals with a bachelor’s degree make on average $1 million more in their lifetime than those without a high school diploma. All states that adopt equitable tuition policies generate additional revenue, both through increased enrollment and through the higher taxable incomes of their workforce.
Access to higher education is a question of fairness as well — There are an estimated 25,000 undocumented youth who have called Tennessee home during most of their lives. They have attended Tennessee schools and want to remain here and contribute to their community. Tennessee invests in undocumented students from kindergarten through high school, and undocumented parents invest in Tennessee, laboring in the economy and paying more than $157 million in sales and property tax in Tennessee in 2010 alone.
Prohibitive tuition policies lead to lower college enrollment — Nationally, less than 10% of undocumented students who graduate from high school go on to college, compared with about 75% of their documented classmates. Studies show that in states with inclusive tuition policies, 31% more Latino non-citizens enroll in higher education and their high school dropout rates are reduced by an estimated 14%. Tuition equality will help boost Tennessee’s graduation rates and sustain the state’s economic health.
Other states are already on the move — At least twenty-five other states have already approved tuition equality policies, including Texas, Florida, Kentucky, Virginia and Kansas. Tuition equality is a fair, commonsense policy that helps our state maximize its human potential.
Tennessee stands on the brink – In spring 2015 the Tennessee Senate approved a tuition equality bill, and the House came within ONE vote of doing so. In early 2016, the House will have another opportunity to consider the issue. The bill is not perfect, but it represents significant progress toward better access to higher education for immigrant youth. Change is within reach, but supporters must speak up if we hope to win this important reform.
If you are interested in helping bring Tuition Equality to Tennessee, please take a moment to find out how to get involved.