Later this year, the California Supreme Court will decide the financial future of undocumented students.
The court has chosen to hear the case over the constitutionality of a state law permitting undocumented students to pay in-state tuition for California’s public universities. Since undocumented students are not eligible for state or federal financial aid, a reversal of the current law – Assembly Bill 540 – has the potential to significantly impact 1,600 UC students receiving the tuition benefit. According to Fall 2008 figures from the Office of the Registrar, 105 UCSB undergraduates and 14 graduate students are currently supported by AB 540.
Students meet the AB 540 standards if they attended a California high school for three or more years and graduated from a California high school or attained the equivalent of a high school diploma. Students must then file an affidavit with their institution of higher education stating that they will seek to legalize their status.
Out-of-state students initially stirred opposition to the state’s tuition benefits for undocumented immigrants by filing a lawsuit, Martinez v. UC Regents, in 2005. The lawsuit alleges that AB 540 is in violation of federal law as it offers in-state tuition rates to undocumented students, but does not provide the same benefit to U.S. citizens not from California.
Education officials pushed for the state supreme court to accept the case after an appellate court ruled in September ’08 that AB 540 directly conflicts with federal law concerning student fees. Justices will likely hear arguments later this year on the law’s legality.
Director of Admissions Christine Van Gieson said she hopes the California Supreme Court will rule in favor of California high school graduates receiving in-state tuition, regardless of their status.
“I’m a strong believer in higher education for all students,” Van Gieson said. “If students have been living in the state of California, I am all for educating them without having to raise fees. We should make it a priority to educate all our California students and make education affordable to them, whether they be AB 540 or not.”
Virginia Johns of the Office of the Registrar said UCSB will not change its policies until the California Supreme Court makes a ruling.
“The university has appealed the AB 540 appellate court ruling and the court has agreed to hear the UC appeal,” Johns said. “In the meantime, we will operate as usual and continue to give those tuition exemptions.”
Out-of-state students attending UC schools pay nearly $18,000 more per year than California residents and undocumented students who have graduated from California high schools. Additionally, CSU out-of-state students pay about $8,000 more for tuition.
Van Gieson said in spite of the rising cost of education, the admissions office does not select applicants based on whether or not they qualify for in-state tuition.
“From an admissions standpoint, we don’t know if they are AB540 or not, and we don’t make decisions based on whether [prospective students] are in state or not,” Van Gieson said. “It does bring up the cost of education in general. Maybe under a new administration, we will find a way to roll back