An Assist for DACA Students

A change to in-state tuition requirements at the University of Michigan will likely benefit some of the institution's most vulnerable student populations.

August 9, 2019

In a move expected to largely benefit undocumented immigrants, the University of Michigan has revised its requirements for students to qualify for in-state tuition.

But some students say the change, which extends the time frame in which they must enroll at the university after graduating from high school, comes too late. They contend that the new requirement won’t help those who graduated high school several years ago -- before the time period allowed under the new policy -- and who may be stuck paying the higher tuition rate for students who don't live in the state. Because undocumented immigrants don't have legal residency in the U.S., some colleges categorize them as out-of-state students and charge them the higher tuition.

Estimated in-state tuition and fees at Michigan for the 2019-20 academic year is about $15,550 a year. It’s more than $51,000 a year for non-state residents.

Under the new policy, students can establish their residency in Michigan, and thus qualify for in-state tuition, by attending a middle school in the state for at least two years. They then must earn a GED or graduate from an in-state high school that they attended for at least three years.

Under previous rules established by the university's Board of Regents in 2013, students had to enroll at the university within 28 months to qualify for in-state tuition. The new policy, approved by the regents last month, extends the timeline for enrolling at Michigan to 40 months. The policy takes effect in the academic year beginning in fall 2020.

The previous rule, known as an “attendance pathway,” allowed students to establish residency by attending K-12 schools in Michigan. This was an attempt to help minority, nontraditional and other students who could not afford or attend college, for various reasons, soon after graduating from high school, by giving them a “more flexible pathway” to securing in-state tuition.

For many undocumented immigrants, 28 months was not long enough to scrape together the funds to finance their education. Many of these students come from poor families and work in low-paying jobs. Some of them participate in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, an initiative established by the Obama administration in 2012 that temporarily protects from deportation young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children and allows them to legally work in the U.S. Known informally as Dreamers, many of them are current or former college students.

Michigan provost Martin Philbert wrote in a memo to the Board of Regents that the change would help students who are not in the country legally, as well as American citizens who leave the state temporarily after high school.

“It further seeks to provide greater flexibility for the diversity of students who require more time to prepare for, seek and gain admission and enrollment,” Philbert wrote in the memo.

A university spokesman said Michigan does not track how many Dreamers are enrolled.

Michigan State University and Oakland University, two other prominent public institutions in the state, also have similar residency policies with a 40-month time frame for enrolling.

Low-income and first-generation students, as well as those belonging to other student populations, typically enroll at the university within a median of 28 to 44 months, Kedra Ishop, vice provost for enrollment management, said in a written statement.

“It’s not surprising that these students often need to take longer to finance and achieve their eventual successful application and enrollment,” Ishop said in her statement. “We need to make sure that we maintain reasonable access for those who need to stop along the way, for instance to work, but who continue to achieve and are great candidates for U-M.”

However, students must have graduated high school in 2017 or after, which is less than 40 months before fall 2020, to qualify for in-state tuition under the new policy. This means that students who graduated in 2016 or earlier are stuck paying the nonresidential rate for tuition, which is much higher than in-state.

Juan Muñoz-Ponce, a rising senior at the University of Michigan, is a DACA recipient who has lived in Michigan for 20 years. But despite his long residency in the state, he graduated high school in 2013, which means he doesn't qualify for the in-state rate. Muñoz-Ponce didn't enroll until summer 2018 because the community college he had attended had incorrectly advised him that most of his credits would transfer to Michigan -- they did not.

He is a member of Student Community of Progressive Empowerment, a group that advocates for undocumented students on campus and that pushed for the policy change.

Muñoz-Ponce said he wished the university's regents had considered other options. He pointed to the policy at Grand Valley State University, also located in Michigan, which gives students the in-state rate if they've graduated from high school, or a community college, within 28 months.

"I wish they had considered a more broad spectrum of students," he said of the Board of Regents.

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Jeremy Bauer-Wolf

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