Undocumented students should be considered in tuition raises

Mary Dolan

Many recent conversations have centered around the topic of fixing rising college tuition. Unfortunately, undocumented students have largely been ignored in these debates. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg recently drew attention to the issue by announcing that he would give $5 million to TheDream, a nationwide scholarship fund for undocumented students. While the donation is generous, analysts projected that the money will help only 400 undocumented students.

The Texas DREAM Act helps undocumented students pay for college. The act, which was adopted in 2001, allows undocumented students to pay in-state tuition rates at Texas public universities if they either graduated high school or obtained a GED in Texas. From 2001-2006, the Texas DREAM Act aided over 11,000 students.

Despite the help the act has provided, opponents are trying to strike it down. Critics argue the DREAM Act takes money away from colleges because students who are not legal residents of Texas are allowed to pay significantly lower in-state tuition rates.

More ridiculously, some critics also argue that the DREAM Act encourages illegal border crossing because of the lower tuition rates. No correlation has been found between the DREAM Act and an increased number of border crossings.

Critics misunderstand the financial issue: Colleges do not sacrifice out-of-state tuition for in-state tuition. Rather, they gain in-state tuition from students who may not have attended without the act's help.

Only a small portion of Texas college students take advantage of it. In 2013, undocumented students paying in-state tuition accounted for only 1.87% of the total number of enrolled students statewide. In 2013, there were only 762 undocumented students, or 1.46% of the total student body, attending the University of Texas at Austin.

The likely cause of these low numbers is the high cost of in-state tuition, especially for undocumented students, as lack of documentation can interfere with employment and create financially tenuous situations. Those that criticize the act do not appreciate the rising costs of tuition, not to mention housing costs, the combination of which can lead to crippling student loan debt — no mean feat.

Students who take advantage of the DREAM Act are not looking for a handout. Instead, they are trying to use lawful opportunities to cut costs in order to attend college. Just like other students, the degrees undocumented students allow students to find jobs, pursue specialized career paths, transition into U.S. citizenship and become leaders and contributors to their communities.

Many undocumented students came to the United States with their families and did not have a voice in such a life-changing decision. Repealing the DREAM Act would be irresponsible punishment for students trying to make the most of a difficult situation by attending college. We should allow them to use the act to pursue degrees and turn opportunities into better lives. If anything, the process of paying for a college education should be even easier, for all students, including undocumented students.

Dolan is a journalism sophomore from Abilene. Follow Dolan on Twitter @mimimdolan.