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Massachusetts Senate budget revives immigrant tuition reform



By Chris Lisinski

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, MAY 9, 2023…..Senate Democrats will push to offer lower, in-state tuition rates to undocumented immigrants who completed most of their high school education in Massachusetts, taking aim at a major policy change that has proved controversial on Beacon Hill in the past.

The Senate’s fiscal year 2024 budget unveiled Tuesday would allow Bay State high school graduates, regardless of their immigration status, to attend public colleges and universities at the lower cost for in-state students and make them eligible to receive state financial aid.

Senate President Karen Spilka said the measure would “ensure our commonwealth’s competitiveness well into the future.”

“We have so many jobs being unfilled. We need a trained, educated, qualified workforce. We need to do this,” she said. “While Massachusetts leads so many areas of education, we have such a reputation across our country to be a leader in education, we are falling behind other states — including the red states — in offering what is not only the right thing for these immigrant students, but good for our atmosphere of inclusion, equity and overall success.”

“Twenty-three states plus D.C. already have this,” she added. “We have to be competitive as well.”

To qualify, students would need to have attended a Massachusetts high school for at least three years and graduated or obtained their GED in the Bay State.

The change could slash the costs of attending a UMass campus, state university or community college by thousands or tens of thousands of dollars for Massachusetts students who do not have legal immigration status.

Next year, UMass Amherst will charge $17,364 in tuition for in-state students and $39,300 for out-of-state students. Worcester State University will charge $10,786 for Massachusetts undergraduates and $16,866 for out-of-state undergraduates. And at Bunker Hill Community College, the cost of four credits is $920 for in-state students and $1,744 for out-of-state students.

Senate Democrats say they are not sure how many residents in Massachusetts would be affected by the proposed new policy.

In a 2019 analysis of Census data, the Migration Policy Institute estimated Massachusetts had about 15,000 residents without legal immigration status between the ages of 3 and 17 and another 31,000 between the ages of 18 and 24.

Senate Ways and Means Committee Chair Michael Rodrigues said he does not believe the measure would generate any substantial cost for the state and would instead steer new revenue toward campuses by attracting more students who might currently be daunted by the higher out-of-state tuition costs.

“The reports I’ve seen [are] actually income generated. We know that enrollment at our community colleges has declined precipitously, especially since the pandemic. Enrollment in all higher ed has declined. So this will provide increased enrollment at our higher education institutes,” he said. “Schools would see a net gain in revenue because more students would attend with in-state tuition rates.”

Opponents contend that the policy would unfairly reward immigrants who are here without legal status and encourage others to head to Massachusetts.

Eighteen of the 24 territories that allow undocumented students to attend schools at in-state tuition costs also permit them to access state financial aid, including New York, Rhode Island, Washington, D.C., Texas and Utah, according to Spilka’s office.

Senators are pushing to implement the policy amid an uncertain outlook in the House and corner office under Gov. Maura Healey.

Like the House, the Senate also declined to back a Healey proposal to lock in-state tuitions and fees at UMass and state university schools and charge undergraduate students the same for all four years they attend.

Rodrigues said the idea “hasn’t been properly vetted.”

The effort to level the tuition playing field for Massachusetts pupils regardless of immigration status stretches back decades.

The Legislature approved a similar measure in an annual budget bill in 2004, but Republican Gov. Mitt Romney vetoed the language and lawmakers did not pursue an override.

A year and a half later, in 2006, the House rejected a standalone bill that would have allowed undocumented students to attend colleges and universities at in-state tuition rates.

Representatives voted 57-96 to sink the bill. All Republicans opposed the measure, and they were joined by many Democrats and some members of then-Speaker Salvatore DiMasi’s leadership team — including Robert DeLeo, who succeeded DiMasi as speaker in 2009 and did not advance the proposal during his 11-year tenure wielding the gavel.

Several other Democrats who now hold influential leadership positions voted no on the House bill at that time: Speaker Ron Mariano, Assistant Majority Leader Alice Peisch and Second Division Chair Paul Donato. Reps. Mike Moran and Ruth Balser, who today respectively serve as House majority leader and third division chair, each supported the legislation in 2006.

Their position on the bill 17 years ago does not dictate where they will land today. Rodrigues, who on Tuesday introduced the policy as a Senate priority, voted against the reform in 2006 when he was a representative.

Some higher education officials, including UMass Boston Chancellor Marcelo Suarez-Orozco, have previously voiced support for offering in-state tuition rates to undocumented students. Senate Democrats on Tuesday touted endorsements from the leaders of Salem State University, Northern Essex Community College, North Shore Community College and Bristol Community College.

“One’s country of origin, citizenship or immigration status should not be a barrier to their success,” said Vincent Pedone, executive director of the State Universities Council of Presidents, in a statement provided by Spilka’s office.

In recent years, immigrant rights advocates have found the Legislature a bit more receptive of their goals. After a veto from Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, Mariano and Spilka last summer oversaw overrides muscling through a new law opening up driver’s license eligibility to all residents regardless of immigration status. Voters then upheld the measure at the ballot box.

When immigration advocates gathered in March to celebrate that victory, Mariano told them he hopes to return next year and “celebrate something new.”



  1. Fed Up

    May 9, 2023 at 4:08 pm

    States deeply in debt like the whole country but hey we can all pat ourselves on the back.

    • I Hate D****** Fascist MAGAt's

      May 10, 2023 at 7:30 am

      It’s not Mass has a surplus, multiple surplus accounts! The states booming! So is it all doom and gloom in your life and fear???

  2. Kfurtado

    May 10, 2023 at 5:25 am

    They are here illegally. They could have followed the legal process. They DO NOT deserve one penny of my tax dollars. LEGAL CITIZENS FIRST !!

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