Georgia is Failing its Non-Citizen Students

Introduced on February 5th, 2020, Georgia House Bill 896 could have changed the lives of Dreamers in Georgia in the near future. This legislation allowed non-citizen immigrants to pay in-state tuition at any of Georgia’s public colleges and universities.[1]

Many public universities that allow undocumented students on their campus mandate that they pay out-of-state student fees.  Currently, under a Board of Regents Policy passed in 2010, undocumented students are banned from attending Georgia’s top three public institutions of higher education: Georgia Institute of Technology, University of Georgia and Georgia College and State University. At institutions where undocumented students can apply, they are ineligible for in-state tuition.[2]

Undocumented students have been charged out-of-state tuition for the past 12 years. This charge can be up to three times higher than in-state tuition.[3] Georgia Senate Bill 492, passed in 2008, denies undocumented students a fair path to higher education by mandating higher costs. [4]

The out-of-state tuition mandated by SB 492 prevents many academically-eligible students from attaining higher education, by delaying or completely denying them access.[5] The demand for higher tuition forces students to work for long hours while taking fewer classes. For students who dream of college, taking a full load of classes while working demanding jobs can hurt their academic standing.[6] In addition, many undocumented students also have family responsibilities, so high tuition costs further prevent them from engaging on college campuses.[7]

In the 2020  legislative session, there were multiple attempts to reverse this process, including HB 896 sponsored by former House Minority Leader Bob Trammell. This legislation allowed immigrants with temporary permission to stay in the U.S. to be eligible for in-state tuition if the student has been “enrolled at a Georgia high school for at least three years, has filed paperwork seeking legal immigration status and has a high school diploma or GED.”[8]

The proposed legislation could positively impact 21,600 DACA recipients residing in Georgia, of whom 22% are in high school and 13% in college.[9] Students who are eligible for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals are residing in the United States legally, can drive in the state of Georgia[10] and pay about $61 million in state and local taxes.[11]

This legislation has several benefits for both students who are directly affected and the state of Georgia as a whole. By investing in more talented youth and increasing graduation rates, Georgia will benefit from a larger workforce, a more creative and educated population and a prospering economy.

By the end of 2020, 65% of jobs in the United States will require a postsecondary degree or at least training beyond a high school education.[12] Providing access to higher education for 2.1 million college-aged and young undocumented people is a necessary step in meeting the demands of those jobs. Allowing undocumented youth to acquire fair education will create a well-educated workforce, leading to a very competitive economy in the state of Georgia.[13]

Currently, 19 other states have implemented in-state tuition. In addition, no states other than Georgia, Alabama, and South Carolina have any laws mandating exclusive acceptance practices in higher education for undocumented students.[14] Undocumented youth in Georgia who receive scholarships and leave the state to study are not likely to come back to Georgia.[15]

Losing young, passionate and educated students due to discriminatory laws have several consequences for the state of Georgia. By being denied educational opportunities, undocumented youth are likely to become a part of a permanent underclass cycle, unable to get jobs that require post-secondary education. Not being able to acquire jobs often increases the number of individuals dependent on public assistance.[16]

Georgia must allow undocumented students to access higher education at reasonable costs, not only because it is the morally righteous thing to do but because it would also help bolster the state’s economy and enrich its future.