Loss for Immigrant Students; Win for Foreign Students

At Arizona State, a scholarship to deal with impact of a referendum disappears; in Michigan, right to get licenses is restored.
February 18, 2008

When Arizona voters passed Proposition 300 in 2006, they barred immigrant students without legal status from enrolling at in-state tuition rates or receiving state financial aid. As expected, the measure has led to declines in the number of such students enrolled at public colleges and universities. At Arizona State University, however, officials responded to Proposition 300 by announcing that they would use private scholarship funds to make up the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition rates.

Arizona State's announcement was praised by many educators and advocates for immigrant students, but has been criticized repeatedly by the anti-immigrant groups that pushed for Proposition 300. Now, however, after all that criticism, the university has announced that it has run out of money for the scholarships and that all it will provide these undocumented students is a list of private groups that award scholarships without checking immigration status.

The gap between in-state and out-of-state tuition rates is significant at Arizona State: $4,821 vs. $16,853. Arizona State has reported that it has 207 students who have been unable to document a legal immigration status. Because of the difficulty of obtaining government aid and the reality that many undocumented students don't have much money, the tuition gap is a significant hurdle for enrolling.

A statement from Arizona State said: "The Sunburst Scholarship, a private scholarship, was available to students for the 2007-08 academic year. After one year, funding has been exhausted, and the Sunburst Scholarship is no longer available."

The statement continued: "ASU is committed to the enrollment and graduation of all qualified students. As you are aware, Arizona law does not allow undocumented students to receive aid that is supported by state funding. Students do, however, have the ability to seek private funding sources as private scholarship criteria are set by the individual donor." The university is referring students to a list of scholarship sources, some of which do not check on immigration status.

The scholarships have been controversial from the start and news that they were stopping was cheered by those who favored Proposition 300.

The Arizona Republic quoted State Rep. John Kavanagh as saying: "The university should never have been complicit in bypassing the will of the voters." Rusty Childress, founder of United for a Sovereign America, told the newspaper: "I've been a supporter of ASU in the past but not with this scholarship. If I was a dog, my tail would be wagging."

But others said that Arizona State was missing an opportunity to help students. Michael A. Olivas, a University of Houston professor who is director of the Institute of Higher Education Law and Governance, said that there was no reason why Arizona State's private fund raising arm could not raise money for scholarships. He noted that public universities in Texas took such an approach when an appeals court decision barred them from awarding special scholarships for minority students. "ASU could do this," he said.

Help for Foreign Students in Michigan

In Michigan, meanwhile a new law will undo an interpretation of state regulations that would have made it impossible for many foreign students -- even though they were in the United States legally, with visas -- to obtain driver's licenses.

An opinion by Michigan’s attorney general prompted the secretary of state to stop issuing new licenses to undocumented and temporary residents. (The latter group includes people in Michigan on student visas.) The result was that thousands of Michigan’s students from foreign countries were potentially left without the right to obtain a license, disproportionately affecting graduate students who live off-campus and rely on cars to travel to and from class. They were told that when their licenses from home expired, they would have to return home to get new ones.

On Friday, Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm signed into law legislation that would restore license rights for those who are legal residents of Michigan, a group that includes the foreign students on visas to study at Michigan universities.

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