Tuition changes in works for illegals

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Friday July 22, 2011

A strong endorsement from Gov. Deval Patrick is giving local advocates hope that the Legislature will act on a long-stalled proposal to charge illegal immigrants the same tuition rates at public colleges as legal residents.

"We've had many, many kids from Berkshire County who have left the state to go places where they can get in-state tuition," said Hilary Greene, the director of the Berkshire Immigrant Center. "Every time this issue comes up, it's been voted down. Hopefully with the governor's strong backing this year, we'll be able to push it through."

The bill has been stalled in the Legislature since it was first proposed in 2005. Until Patrick made his surprise appearance at a Statehouse hearing on Wednesday, the proposal again seemed unlikely to pass, having garnered little in the way of public support from leaders in the House and Senate.

If enacted, the law would let students without legal status in Massachusetts pay the lower, in-state rate as long as they've attended high school in Massachusetts for at least three years.

The students would also have to sign an affidavit stating that they've applied for permanent residency or citizenship.

Massachusetts' public colleges and universities charge non-residents as much as 10 times more than their in-state counterparts.

At Berkshire Community College, in-state students pay $26 per credit while out-of-state students are charged $260.

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Michael Bullock, the college's vice president of student affairs, said that between tuition and fees, the average semester costs a resident $2,500, compared to an average of $6,500 for a non-resident student.

"Personally, I'm glad to see the governor step up on this issue," said Bullock. "Central to the mission of the college is to provide access to anyone who wants to pursue higher education. This measure is certainly consistent with that mission."

Bullock and Greene said they are confident that the high price of out-of-state tuition is currently keeping non-citizens in Berkshire County -- who would otherwise attend college -- out of the state's schools.

"By not giving people this opportunity, we're creating an underclass of people who are very bright, but end up on a dead-end street," said Greene.

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Critics of similar proposals say illegal immigrants shouldn't be offered the same benefits as citizens or others in the state legally.

But both Greene, Bullock and other advocates say studies have shown that the proposal would generate revenue, not drain state coffers, as opponents argue.

"As the governor made clear, this is also a benefit to the community," said Bullock.

Average annual tuition at Berkshire

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County's public colleges. The total

excludes any attached fees.

Massachusetts College
of Liberal Arts

Resident: $7,575

Non-resident: $16,520

Berkshire Community College

Resident: $780

Non-resident: $7,800


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