Analysts: In-state tuition for undocumented students wouldn’t raise costs

A new report by the legislature’s non-partisan budget office says a proposed bill that would give in-state college tuition rates to undocumented students won’t necessarily increase higher education costs–but it isn’t likely to persuade opponents of the measure.

“I don’t believe that there is no cost,” said Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, the ranking Republican on the legislature’s Higher Education Committee. “The cost depends on how many student come forward… and we don’t know the number that would.”

Lee Melvin

UConn’s Enrollment Director Lee Melvin: ‘If you make it more affordable, then of course’ more will enroll

Boucher also said she concerned about the assumptions on which the Office of Fiscal Analysis concluded there would be no increased cost: The state colleges and universities can adjust the ratio of in-state to out-of-state student as needed to make up for the lower tuition for undocumented students.

“It has more problems than just fiscal impact,” Boucher said. “We would not have as many in-state seats [for legal residents] to make up for this.”

But Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford and co-chairwoman of the Higher Education Committee, said the OFA report adds to the support for the measure.

“These students would be paying what it costs” to provide them an education, said Bye. “They live in the state and they are going to pay in-state.”

The proposal requires students to have completed four years of high school in the state to receive in-state tuition. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has said he would sign the measure, which would begin with the upcoming school year.

The General Assembly approved a similar bill in 2007, but it was vetoed by former Gov. M. Jodi Rell. Budget analysts said then that Connecticut State University System and the community colleges actually stood to gain additional money and students from the change.

It’s a different story at UConn: Enrollment there is at capacity.

Lee Melvin, director of enrollment at UConn, said there currently are only 10 undocumented immigrants among the more than 20,000 students at the school.

“We know who they are,” he said. “They are some very, very high-achieving students.”

But Melvin said the number of undocumented students is likely to increase if lawmakers pass the proposal that would reduce the amount they pay to attend UConn. Undocumented students currently pay out-of-state tuition and fees, which are nearly $17,000 a year higher than in-state rates.

“If you make it more affordable, then of course” more will enroll, he said.

But he agreed that allowing undocumented students to pay in-state rates won’t necessarily cost the university money.

“It’s a balancing act,” he said, between deciding how many students are accepted from in-state and out-of-state. About one-quarter of UConn’s students are from out of state.

Boucher said the fiscal-impact report did not reflect that fact that public money is used to underwrite the cost of educating students at state higher education institutions. The state spent $1.1 billion for higher education last fiscal year, according to a report from the State Higher Education Executive Officers, or $8,450 for each full-time equivalent student.

“There is clearly a cost,” Boucher said. “The public is furious.”

Following a public hearing last month on the proposal, a steady stream of letters began to flow into committee members’ e-mail inboxes from both proponents and opponents.

Bruce Mudzinski, a father from Wallingford who just finished paying for his son to attend UConn and is now paying for his daughter to attend Southern Connecticut State University, was one of the opponents.

“I find that very hard to stomach. One door may open but you are closing the door on another student,” he said.

Sharyn D’Urso, an immigration lawyer in New Haven, wrote lawmakers supporting the change.
“Charging this class of students a higher tuition is unfair and mean… Connecticut law holds them back,” she said.

Melvin said if the proposal does become law he does not expect the door to close on state residents.

“Admission is already evaluated on your academic criteria, not on your immigration status,” he said. “I don’t think it’s taking a space away from a Connecticut resident.”

Undocumented students would still be restricted from receiving financial aid under the proposal. Melvin said most scholarships at UConn are available only to U.S. residents, and this proposal does not mandate that these scholarships become available to undocumented students.

“They are still at a disadvantage to enroll,” Bye said.