Tuition Equity

4/21/09

Tuition Equity

          The issue of tuition equity for undocumented students encompasses a broader range of issues that relate to all undocumented residents regardless of age.  In different sectors of life, undocumented residents face restrictionism, the current day manifestation of the fears generated during the Americanization era.  Undocumented residents face limitations on obtaining driver’s licenses and renting apartments, basic essentials to any life.  Additionally, there have been movements to outlaw bilingual education as well as bilingualism in the workforce.  One can trace these attempts to modern day nativism, the fear of immigrants and foreign cultures.  As education is critical in the advancement of society and arguably the most important function of government, one can say that denying all peoples an equitable chance at education is the most egregious consequence of nativism.

The Supreme Court case Plyler V. Doe was the major breakthrough guaranteeing an equal opportunity of primary and secondary education for all students regardless of legal status (Yates).  Decided on June 15, 1982, Justice Brennan voiced in the majority opinion that denying education to the undocumented students was a violation of the Equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment (Yates).  It was concluded that because a state’s jurisdiction includes all residents, all people within the state are granted  “at least the minimal safeguards” of the 14th Amendment, regardless of legal status. (Yates).

As Plyler was a Supreme Court case it set a national precedent, however this did not prevent individual states from attempting circumvent it.  Among other things such as denying basic services, rights, benefits and even the right to simply attend a California public college or university, proposition 187 in California (1994) attempted to deny undocumented children their public education, a matter which ostensibly had been settled with the Plyer case 12 years earlier (Yates).  Proposition 187 was determined to be federally unconstitutional, however certain aspects of its intent were realized with subsequent federal legislation (Yates).

With PRWORA Congress established a national policy of restricting availability of public benefits to undocumented residents, including the right to post secondary education (Yates).  Shortly thereafter, Congress passed the IIRIRA.  While the PRWORA was a broad law, the IIRIRA was a narrow law attempting to restrict any undocumented immigrant’s right to post secondary education (Yates).  In essence it stated that regardless of any other circumstance, such as graduating from a high school in the state, a public college cannot allow undocumented students to receive in state tuition unless that same school was to allow legal non-resident students the same rate (Yates).

Plyer was in place to allow a basic education to all peoples however with the passing of the IIRIRA the government greatly limited an undocumented student’s ability to receive a post secondary degree.  The IIRIRA also took away power from the states with issuing a broad federal guideline dictating policies which some could say is clearly a state’s rights issue.  Given the rise of nativism within the past 25 years due to war and increased immigration, it is not surprising such a wide reaching initiative was passed.  The federal DREAM Act proposal hopes to set a new precedent on providing tuition based equity while also providing a pathway to citizenship.

The debate over tuition based equity has many facets to it which encompass different reasoning’s.  The interesting thing is that every reason a proponent might have to support tuition equity a detractor can use the same topic to rebut it.  In objectivity, this debate is not a clear cut one and is hugely influenced by perspective.

Among the most commonly used themes to argue for and against tuition equity are legal and economic, which are for very straight forward reasons.  Without law, there is chaos and as such some feel that legal reasons triumph over all other reasons.  Economics is a huge factor because a fact of life is that money is a central to a person or entity’s success; a lack of fiscal responsibility will be detrimental to anyone.

Those making the case against tuition equity on the basis of legality claim that the U.S. is a nation of laws, and the fact remains an undocumented resident is an “illegal” resident.  That individual might say why reward someone for breaking the law, would that not only further encourage others from entering the country illegally?  Sen. Bill Cadman of Colorado Springs said that granting students who are illegal immigrants in state tuition was like saying, “if their parents robbed a bank, their kids could keep the money.”  One would be hard pressed to find other instances in which individuals who gained something unlawfully continued to receive benefits of that unlawful act.

Additionally, Sen. Ted Harvey stated, “By rewarding those who come here illegally with government services, we will only beget more illegal behavior in the future.”

Proponents of tuition equity also use the legal reason.  Their view is that, if we are a nation of laws and one which promotes justice for all, why are we punishing the innocent?  If a person entered the country illegally and brought their children with them, is it the child’s fault he is undocumented?  The child did not have a say and as such one can argue it is an unreasonable consequence he affected for his parent’s actions.  If one hold’s a society to the truest letters of their laws, than how can that society justify punishing one person for the behavior of another?

Those against tuition equity also argue with the other hot button topic: economics.  In fact, many times the legal and economic arguments work hand in hand.  They say the bottom line is, all of this will cost money, and with today’s volatile economic times should we not be more prudent in allocating resources for legal citizens?

  1. Regardless, one might say that our society is only as strong as our weakest links, and promoting a college education for all is in our nation’s economic best interests.
  2. When you do not give people hope, they do hopeless things.”

Detractors also use this reasoning however counter them in different ways.  They say that this equity should only exist for legal residents and how are they being denied rights, when they do not have a “right”, albeit a legal one at the moment, for them anyway?  They might say that, speaking of morality, what is moral about assisting individuals who our state defines as criminals?

Ironically the argument which is used the least is arguments pertaining to education.  Proponents state that pluralism on our campuses is enriching to all segments of the student body.  If classes are comprised with more diversity more rewarding debate can ensue.  Those who study pedagogy might say that the inclusion of as many different peoples from different backgrounds can only enhance the educational experience.  Detractors say that allowing undocumented students will drag down the experience for the rest of the students.

I feel that the different pros and cons need to be analyzed and dissected differently.  One can make great arguments for and against using the legal argument, however the legal argument benefits the detractors of tuition equity due to the fact that laws exist in their favor already; the burden of proof is not on them so to speak.  At the same time, our history is rife with examples of laws that did not make sense or were not just, going back to slavery, voting rights and segregation.  It is harder for a proponent to utilize the legal argument, however not impossible.

The economic reasons for and against tuition equity are the most interesting.  Here I feel both sides can use this argument somewhat equally however a detractor can use it more easily, while a proponent can use it more effectively.  To someone who is not versed on this issue, a detractor can point out that offering lower tuition to more students will decrease revenue, and might end up costing the tax payer money.  To this unknowledgeable person, this alone might be enough for them to think it is not a good idea.  The proponent however can point out that these costs are negligibly, and in reality the long term economic benefits outweigh any perceived short term negative consequences.  It would be very quick and easy for the detractor to say, “This is going to cost money, do you want to spend money?”  The proponent really has more ammo with this logic, however it is not as easy to express.

Easily the social, moral and democratic aspects of the debate are much harder for detractors to purvey and as such they do not normally utilize these strategies.  It’s hard for one to say, “We would like to deny innocent students an education”, whereas it is much easier to discuss logistics such as legalities and economic aspects.  Proponents of tuition equity have this as a readily available asset at any time, however how effective this technique is questionable.  With the economic climate we have, one might believe this indeed is a moral issue, however there is a “we can’t save them all mentality.”

The media is said to be a liberal group and one can speculate on the reasons.  Perhaps it is because those in the media are constantly dealing with current events that they are able to see issues more progressively.  Regardless of one’s personal politics, most people agree there are times to be conservative and times to be liberal.  Tina Griego of the Denver Post was able to make some interesting observations on this debate.  In Giego’s, “Illegal or Not, These Students Are Home Here” she was able to break this matter down to one of practicality.  There is idealism on both sides, however the fact is that these students are here and they are not going anywhere.  The United States is their home.  With that said, let us do what we can to address the issues that are facing those who are here.

Mike Littwin of the Denver Post also did a great job making this a practical issue.  In his “Dems Flunk Courage Test By Betraying Tuition Bill” he states that you’ve got kids who were forced to come here, have no other place to go, did great in school in spite of this and want to go to college, so why not make that goal more feasible for them?  He also did a great job of pointing out that while the Governor supports tuition equity legislation, he is not exactly emphatic about constantly letting people know about it.

I feel the federal Dream Act is something that will benefit the U.S. as a whole, and the positives outweigh the negatives.  The Plyler case established that education is crucial, so much so that it protected by the 14th Amendment.  In that era, a high school education was entirely more valuable than it is today.  With more and more people going to college, and the job market as competitive as ever, a post secondary education is critical to an individual’s positive standard of living, thus using the same rationale of providing the tools for a better life which was discussed in the Plyler case.

In the past with segregated schooling, our government took action where it was necessary to provide a more equitable schooling for all.  In many ways this cycle is repeating itself.  This is about equity and with that equity comes benefit for all not just those directly assisted.  Just like the detractors of desegregated schools, many of the arguments against it stem for nativism and racism.

I think the legal argument against tuition equity is very valid.  It is much like the drug war, many are against it and feels the law need to be changed, however until the laws are changed nothing can be done.  It is then the job of lawmakers and concerned citizens to make light that what is in place serves more a detriment than a benefit to society at large.

The economic argument I feel people take according to their predispositions on government spending in general.  To me it seems that the out of pocket cost to tax payers is virtually nonexistent, and with all the money that the U.S. spends on defense and NASA, why cannot this be a reality?

  1. If you see someone on fire, you throw some water on them, you don’t tell them about fire safety.

As this is my first semester in college and it has been almost 10 years since I was in high school, I do not have much prior learning on this topic or many of the topics we have covered in class.  They are things I have always thought about, and certain thoughts I have had have been confirmed through the class, yet others that were new ideas and contrasted what I had previously though.  With regards to tuition equity and primary and secondary education for undocumented students, those are things I had never thought about, I suppose because they did not affect me.  I have found when I discuss these issues with others, they have similar concepts to mine, but the class really enlightened me to different sides of it.  For example, when I told my stepfather about the tuition equity debate he asked me if I thought it would be fair if I payed out of state tuition while an illegal resident pays in state.  Then I let him know it’s not so clear cut, I chose to leave my home state while these are kids that had no choice to come to the U.S., it’s not fair to punish them and he agreed.

It’s interesting how other topics in the U.S. get way more press than the tuition equity debate.  Every time something happens with the gay marriage debate it is all over the news.  That is also a human rights issue, but by not being able to marry gays are not being deprived of any substantial thing that can better their lives.  They can still have relationships, go to college, and get jobs.  The issue needs to be out there more, because there are lives being affected and held down by this every day.  One of the most ironic things I thought about is that there are people against tuition equity and immigration, yet at least as it pertains to Mexicans, the undocumented are only coming back to what used to be Mexico in the first place and there are constant reminders of that fact everywhere.

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