Topeka — When the children of undocumented immigrants in Kansas graduate high school and qualify for college, they face an imposing obstacle -- they must pay nonresident tuition rates.
A bill that would allow them to pay the lower resident rates at postsecondary schools, including Kansas University. will be considered next month by the Kansas House Higher Education Committee.
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Sue Storm, D-Overland Park, said immigrant students who have lived in the state for several years, graduated from a Kansas high school and can make the cut for college should receive resident rates despite the fact that they are not U.S. citizens.
"It's not their fault their parents brought them here," Storm said.
The issue is being pushed by immigrant and Hispanic advocates and has caught the interest of Helen Hartnett, an assistant professor at the KU School of Social Welfare.
"Immigration is a big issue in Kansas right now because of the large growth of the Latin American population, which pose new challenges to neighborhoods and communities," Hartnett said.
Storm said she hoped that lawmakers would be able to discuss the issue on its merits, rather than debate the nation's immigration policy.
She said her proposal was based on fairness and that making college more easily available to a fast-growing segment of the state will produce a better educated workforce.
Melinda Lewis, a special projects coordinator for El Centro, a social service and community development organization in the Kansas City, Kan., area, said many children of immigrants drop out of high school because they know they will be unable to pay the nonresident tuition rates in college.
At KU, for example, a typical 15-hour course load for a resident undergraduate costs about $1,741, according to KU's Office of University Relations. The same course load for a nonresident student costs $5,343.
"This legislation would open the door of opportunity, at least just a little, so that the really talented and dedicated kids that we are seeing can go to college," Lewis said.
Most of these children of undocumented workers will eventually become U.S. citizens or obtain some kind of permanent resident status, she said.
She said rough estimates based on census figures indicated this bill could make it possible for about 1,200 students per year to take advantage of the lower tuition. Several states, such as California, New York, Texas and Utah allow immigrant students who qualify for admission to be admitted as resident students, she said.