A bevy of undocumented immigrants and advocates dressed in caps and gowns burst into loud applause and cheers in the gallery of the Florida State Senate when 26 state senators out of 39 members moved to pass a bill Thursday evening that would give undocumented immigrants a chance to pay in-state tuition at state colleges. The bill, which just last week seemed certain to die in the Republican-controlled Senate Appropriations Committee, will now move on to the state House and later to Gov. Rick Scott’s (R) desk, where he has already promised to sign into law. Florida will likely become the 20th state to pass an immigration-related tuition bill that allows undocumented immigrants a chance to further their educations and contribute more to the state economy.
Like many other state-level DREAM Act bills, this Florida tuition equity bill would allow undocumented immigrants, who attended high school for three years and graduated or are already in college, to qualify for in-state tuition at public colleges. State Sen. Eleanor Sobel (D) pointed out that the average tuition at the public university would be about four times as much for undocumented immigrants. The average cost of out-of-state tuition hovers around $29,000 as opposed to $6,300 for in-state students, or about $587 per credit hour for compared with $126 per credit hour for in-state residents.
“Tomorrow will be my last day of my 12th session,” State Sen. Jack Latvala (R), just one of 21 bipartisan sponsors, said before the bill went up for debate. “I would estimate that I have sponsored 400 to 500 bills, but this is the bill that will stick with me. We are making college education more affordable for our students in Florida. We are helping to prepare our young people from all walks of life, for improving the job force, for improving the economy.”
A 2011 Roger Williams University study found that giving undocumented immigrants the opportunity to pay in-state tuition is associated with lower high-school drop out rates for some immigrants, higher rates of non-citizen enrollment in colleges. Immigrants are also more likely to stay within the state after they’ve received a degree to help grow the economy. According to Renew Our Economy, “the total income of immigrant business owners represents nearly one-fourth of all business income in the state” where new immigrant business owners had a “total business revenue of $13.3 billion in 2010.”
On Tuesday, Virginia State Attorney General Mark Herring (D) extended in-state tuition to DACA students.