A state Senate vote Wednesday could bring undocumented high school students one step closer to a more affordable college education.
Currently, undocumented Minnesota students aren’t eligible for in-state tuition or for state and private aid, including scholarships, at many colleges in the state, including the University of Minnesota’s Twin Cities campus.
The Minnesota Prosperity, or DREAM, Act would change that.
The bill is scheduled to be heard on the Senate floor Wednesday after passing through the finance committee last week. Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, who authored the proposal, said she’s confident the bill will pass, despite the fact that it has not been heard on the House floor.
The bill was scheduled to be heard in the House at the beginning of April, however Rep. Gene Pelowski, DFL-Winona, the chair of the higher education finance and policy committee, cut the hearing from the agenda.
Pelowski didn’t return multiple calls for comment. However, at an April 8 meeting he said the committee had “an array of concerns with the bill,” including that he felt the proposal was a federal issue, rather than a state one.
Immigrant rights advocate Juventino Meza wrote in a tweet that day, “Rep Pelowski’s leadership [is] disappointing; Minnesota students deserve better!”
Opponents have raised questions about whether students who don’t have the legal right to be in the U.S. should receive public funding for school, Pappas said.
The OHE estimated 50 percent of the more than 660 undocumented undergraduates in Minnesota would apply and qualify for a state grant if the measure is passed, which Pappas said would not have a large impact on Minnesota students.
The Pew Research Center estimated in 2010 that about 85,000 undocumented immigrants were living in Minnesota.
“We are putting $80 million more into financial aid this year,” Pappas said. “And this will have a very minimal impact on state grants.”
Advocates for the bill, like University senior teaching specialist Kathleen Ganley, say the DREAM Act is an ethical issue for some students.
“[Undocumented students] know no other place,” said Ganley, who teaches immigration and community service classes at the University. “I think it is ethically wrong to not allow them to pay in-state tuition. This is their state. They have lived here all their lives and often had no choice.”
In the 2012-13 academic year, resident and non-resident tuition rates at the University differed by about $2,600.
Pappas said if it passes the Senate on Wednesday, she will add it to the higher education omnibus bill, where it could be passed along with other higher education measures.
President Barack Obama issued an executive order that would grant certain immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children relief from deportation for two years.
University doctoral candidate Alfonso Sintjago said while passing the Minnesota DREAM Act would be beneficial to students, he’s also hoping for a federal change that would grant an easier path to citizenship.
“There’s a point when you notice the system is broken, Sintjago said. “People wonder, ‘If the linear system is broken, then what is the system that works?’ They start trying to go around the system.”