Indiana News

Indiana Senate bill would expand in-state tuition to undocumented students

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — State Senate Bill 138 offers in-state tuition for all undocumented postsecondary students.

The bill was authored by Sen. Blake Doriot, a Republican from New Paris; Sen. Mark Messmer, a Republican from Jasper; and Sen. David Niezgodski, a Democrat from South Bend.

Brenda Figueroa, a recipient of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, came to the United States from El Salvador when she was 7 years old with her parents. “We were just looking for the American dream like everyone else.”

A hearing on the bill is set for 1:30 p.m. Wednesday before the Senate Education and Career Development Committee. It meets in the Senate chamber.

The Migration Policy Institute reports that there are 8,210 active recipients of the DACA program in Indiana as of June 2021, and an estimated 1,350 enrilled in post-secondary institutions (public and/or private) as of 2017. Undocumented students are not eligible for federal student aid such as Pell Grants and subsidized loans or for Indiana’s state financial aid programs.

She’s a first-generation college student at Vincennes University. She says paying out-of-state tuition has been difficult.

“It’s a lot of stress. I found myself working full time, going to school full time, and I didn’t have time for myself. I didn’t have time for my family or friends,” Figueroa said.

Now, she has to put her studies on hold to save more money. Indiana is one of only three states with laws that specifically prohibits undocumented students from receiving in-state tuition rates.

“I just think it would help everyone that really wants to be successful to open doors and we need to be educated, so I think this would make it easier for everyone and we deserve it. We are hard workers,” Figueroa said.

Wendy Catalan came from Mexico with her parents more than 15 years ago. She was a star athlete at her high school. With hard work, she graduated with an associate degree at Vincennes University, but she’s hoping to continue her education while helping her family.

Catalan is also a recipient of the DACA program.

“Being able to have this opportunity to pay in-state tuition it would easily be accessible. Easily, right? Because we all now that out-of-state tuition is three times more than in-state tuition,” Catalan said.

Marlene Dotson, president and chief executive officer of the Indiana Latino Institute, said, “In-state tuition is already expensive. Can you imagine to pay out-of-state tuition? And especially for students who come from low-income families. They can’t afford to do that.”

She added, “It’s bad, it’s terrible because we’re missing opportunities to educate, to give them the opportunity to have access to higher education to our young generation and therefore we are closing the door for greater opportunities for our community in general for the state.”

The Indiana Latino Institute offers scholarship and program opportunities for students regardless of their status.

Below is the statement from Sen. Doriot on SB 138:

“Senate Bill 138 would allow recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to have access to in-state tuition, rather than forcing them to pay out-of-state tuition. Many of these students come from low-income families who struggle to afford college, and paying out-of-state tuition is already a huge difficulty for these families. This bill would alleviate some of that stress and would allow students to be able to expand their education and opportunities in life.

“This bill is not without requirements – the student must have attended high school in Indiana for four years and have graduated from high school or received the equivalent of a high school diploma in Indiana. In addition, the student must have filed or have plans to file an affidavit to pursue citizenship, which would allow them to become legal, taxpaying citizens that fully participate in society.

“SB 138 would help Indiana gain valuable, educated workers who will enrich our workforce, and would put many of the students in the DACA program on the right track toward citizenship.”