The University of Michigan Makes Strides for Undocumented Students

The University of Michigan Makes Strides for Undocumented Students

With Detroit’s recent declaration of bankruptcy, and its reputation, along with Flint, for being one of the most dangerous cities in the United States, Michigan has not gotten the best publicity lately. However, the University of Michigan’s recent decision to allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition on their main Ann Arbor campus as well as satellites in Flint and Dearborn could potentially turn this around. With 150,000 undocumented individuals living in Michigan, many below the poverty line, this change aims to make education more accessible to those looking for a higher quality of life for themselves and their children.

Even as job opportunities seem to decrease for recent college graduates, they earn, on average, about twice as much as those who do not attend college. Rising tuition costs can make higher education in general seem like an unattainable goal for anyone caught in the cycle of poverty, regardless of their immigration status. According to the Washington Post, 16 other states have enacted similar policies in their public universities since 2001, despite Congress voting against the 2010 DREAM act which would have provided permanent United States residency to undocumented students who had earned a high school diploma or GED. With the University of Michigan’s $13,100 price tag on in-state tuition, prices are still steep, but it’s a significant drop from the $40,400 owed by out of state students that undocumented students, even those living in Michigan, were expected to pay previously. While fifteen of Michigan’s state colleges have already enacted this policy, the University of Michigan is the most prominent, generating some of the most controversy.

Opponents of this policy cite the usual arguments against illegal immigration: that immigrants take jobs away from Americans, that it should be up to the federal government rather than the states to determine their legal status and access to education, and that these policies discourage them from earning citizenship status. However the citizenship process, particularly for Mexican immigrants, can be long and tedious; especially with a proposed change that would double the size of the citizenship form. While looser border policies may not be attainable through federal legislation, colleges attempting to make education more accessible can possibly alleviate some of the difficulties faced by undocumented individuals. Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama have banned undocumented students from their public universities outright, causing a group of professors in Georgia to form a “freedom university,” providing higher education to them. University of Georgia professor Pam Voekel is one of these volunteers, who told NPR, “They really do see this as a civil rights struggle. They are being excluded from higher education, and so we went with that as part of that kind of tribute to that prior struggle.” While undocumented students in other states may not be banned outright, high costs keep them from attending college.

While the University of Michigan’s in-state tuition costs continue to rise along with nationwide tuition hikes, this policy reform reflects the university’s willingness to accommodate students that have been turned away from other institutions, putting them on a path to higher wages and a higher quality of life. Faculty member Laura Sanders told the Washington Post that this change will “put the University of Michigan on the map as a college that really puts into action what we say we believe.” Aside from benefits to the university, hopefully a larger numbers of graduates will be able to use their education to improve the state’s infrastructure.

But perhaps the most affected are the parents of undocumented students who brought their children to the United States hoping to give them a greater range of opportunities. Jose Contreras, whose son Javier will now be able to finish his last two years of college at the University of Michigan, remarked during a meeting on the policy change, “I know you members of the University of Michigan (are) same as me, you also have kids. I know you wish the best for them… I wish you can help us out and let these kids do their best because I know they have what it takes to become professionals.”