Study: In-state tuition for RI non-citizens would raise revenue

By Claire Peracchio

Allowing undocumented immigrants to get in-state tuition at Rhode Island’s public colleges would increase non-citizen enrollment by 31% and actually make money for the schools, according to a comprehensive recent study of the issue.

The study, conducted by the nonpartisan Latino Policy Institute at Roger Williams University, examines what may happen if the Board of Governors of Higher Education approves the policy change at its meeting tonight. The change would take effect in the fall of 2012 if it gets approved.

The study [pdf] found that granting illegal immigrants in-state tuition would cause a small increase in the number of non-citizens attending state public colleges and universities — 24 additional students on top of the 74 full-time undocumented students currently studying at the URI, RIC and CCRI, for a total of 98.

The study also predicted that the policy change would reduce the number of undocumented Latino high school dropouts by 14%, resulting in 71 additional high school graduates each year. The high school dropout rate among Latinos is the highest in the state, at nearly one in four.

More surprisingly, the institution said those benefits would come at no cost to Rhode Island taxpayers, based on an analysis of nine previous studies on the effects of in-state tuition around the country.

In fact, the study said granting non-citizens in-state tuition would generate approximately $162,000 in additional revenue for public colleges and universities each year. That estimate does not account for the economic benefits of the students’ increased earnings potential or the income tax revenue they would generate, said Kimberly Mehlman-Orozco, director of the institute.

The study also played down a major criticism of the proposed change – that non-citizens would take admissions spots from citizens. Administrators told researchers that the only instance in which non-citizens could displace citizen applicants is in highly competitive programs, like nursing.

But, in terms of general admission to these institutions, “there is no tweaking of admissions seats, so you won’t see anybody denied admission because of any increase in non-citizens being enrolled at these institutions,” Mehlman-Orozco said.

Board of Governors spokesman Michael Trainor agreed, adding that because applicants are admitted based on whether they meet certain minimum qualifications, “if a citizen student doesn’t get in, it’s because of his or her own record.”

Thirteen states have passed laws allowing undocumented students to receive in-state tuition since 2001, including Texas and Connecticut, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures; one – Wisconsin – revoked it this year. But Rhode Island would be the first to implement the change through policy rather than legislation.

Gov. Lincoln Chafee swung his support behind the policy change on Sunday – just days after as Texas Gov. Rick Perry came under fire in a Republican primary debate for taking the same position.

Claire Peracchio is a student at Brown University and a intern.

(photo: Rhode Island College)

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