Editorial: In-State Tuition; A Hard-Hearted Approach in N.H.

Friday, August 30, 2013
Imagine your parents brought you to this country illegally when you were young. You settled in New Hampshire, attended local public schools, worked hard and got good grades. In 12th grade, you applied for admission to the University of New Hampshire and were accepted.

Should you be eligible for in-state tuition?

Under a hard-hearted and short-sighted measure approved by the 2012 Legislature and signed into law by then-Gov. John Lynch, no. Under new legislation being considered by current state lawmakers, yes. The new effort, essentially undoing the law now in effect, deserves support.

States across the country have grappled with this question before, and they have come to a variety of conclusions. In some states, students without legal residency status aren’t even admitted to public colleges. In some states, they are denied the in-state tuition subsidy given to their neighbors. And in a growing number of states — including those that are home to a majority of the nation’s undocumented immigrants — students are eligible for in-state tuition rates.

To understand the logic, consider what the logic of the in-state tuition break was in the first place: State colleges and universities have a mission to educate local students. They want them to stay in the state after they graduate and ultimately contribute to the local economy.

The education and training they provide is important to individual students and equally important to the state as a whole.

The children of undocumented immigrants often don’t come from households with much money. To deny them the in-state tuition rate may likely mean denying them admission altogether. This is especially true in New Hampshire, where the gap between the tuition rate for New Hampshire students and those from elsewhere is enormous.

How could it possibly be in New Hampshire’s interest to thwart the educational aspirations of local students who have the aptitude and work ethic to get into college? How could it possibly be better — for them or for the state — not to get a college degree? Why would we want to punish them for a residency issue often out of their own control, for laws broken by their parents?

Similar to such laws in other states, New Hampshire’s proposed legislation would apply to any student “without lawful immigration status” but who otherwise meets the criteria for in-state tuition and has applied “to legalize his or her immigration status, or will file such application as soon as he or she is eligible.” Critics argue that the proposal is unfair to those who play by the rules — or perhaps those whose parents played by the rules.

But the practical experience of other states with such laws shows that they don’t hurt other applicants or deprive colleges of tuition revenue from significant numbers of students who would otherwise pay out-of-state tuition. Rather, they generate some revenue that would not otherwise be available to the schools.

More important, they raise the percentage of local high school graduates who pursue a college degree — a good goal for New Hampshire and every state.

Even in states with relatively large populations of undocumented immigrants, the number of students who have applied for in-state tuition under such laws is small. In New Hampshire, a small state with an even smaller population of students without legal residency status, it’s hard to imagine the issue ever becoming a big one.

In fact, the biggest impact of the proposed law may well be symbolic. It says to New Hampshire families — and to the greater world — that we believe it’s in our interest to help all local students get the best education they can, for their own good and for the good of our state.

Concord Monitor