Maryland’s Dream Act, originally passed by the state legislature in March 2011, will stand, as voters passed the measure Tuesday, 58 to 42 percent. Under the Dream Act, students without legal documentation to live in the United State can be eligible to receive in-county tuition at Maryland community colleges and in-state rates at public universities.
“For students, it means that they can get an education, they can figure out how to pay for college,” said Roberto Juarez, a campaign coordinator with the United Dream Network. “Especially for students finishing community college and trying to figure out how to go to a four-year college, it makes it something they can achieve; it’s no longer just a dream.”
Though the measure did pass the legislature, opponents launched a campaign to gather signatures and bring the issue to a referendum, marking the first time a state Dream Act has been put to popular vote.
Maryland’s Dream Act is relatively strict compared to other states’ policies. For an undocumented student to be eligible for in-county or in-state tuition, he or she must have graduated from a Maryland high school after attending for at least three years, and provide proof that he or his family has filed income taxes for at least the past three years. Even then, the student is only eligible for the resident rate at community college, and he must earn 60 units or his associate degree before qualifying for in-state tuition at the state’s four-year universities.
Because undocumented students are ineligible for federal student aid, and tend not to have a lot of money, in-state tuition rate eligibility tends to be crucial to their ability to get a higher education.
The measure is expected to affect about 435 students in each entering class. When it was originally passed in March it was predicted to cost the state $3.5 million by 2016, an analysis by the Maryland Institute for Policy Analysis & Research, which anticipates an overall positive economic impact because the students helped by the Dream Act are likely to earn more money and therefore pay more in taxes.
“This is a wise investment,” said Kristin Ford, communications director for Educating Maryland Kids. “It’s not just good for kids, but it’s also good from an economic standpoint.”
Ford said the key to the campaign was educating voters. Once people understood the measure, she said, they tended to support it, but it was important to emphasize that it wasn’t a handout or a special scholarship.
“It’s such a common-sense law that as soon as people knew what it was and understood it, they were very receptive,” she said.
Dan Hurley, director of State Relations and Policy Analysis for the American Association of State Colleges and Universities surmised that if Maryland repealed the Dream Act by popular vote, it might inspire opponents in other states that offer undocumented students in-state tuition to try a similar approach. But now that the vote has been successful, both Ford and Juarez hope Maryland will inspire other states to pursue Dream Acts by way of popular vote.
“We’re hoping this will send a message to other states that there’s strong political support,” Ford said. “This is the first time a state Dream Act has been voted on on a ballot, and hopefully we can send a signal to other states."