Language in the bill regarding out-of-state tuition exemptions for students meeting certain requirements has been removed from bill proposals, but there are several states throughout the country that have adopted and passed their own versions with nonresident tuition exemptions.
Utah is one of them. During the 2002 General Session of the Utah State Legislature, former Rep. David Ure (R-Kamas) sponsored H.B. 144, Exemption from Nonresident Tuition. The bill passed in both the House and the Senate and allowed students who met certain requirements to be exempt from paying nonresident tuition at institutions of higher education.
There has been constant opposition to legislation that will benefit undocumented citizens in the U.S., but even so, H.B. 144 has stood its ground. Despite several attempts to repeal the bill, undocumented students that meet the requirements listed in the bill are still eligible for more affordable higher education.
According to the bill, undocumented students may be exempt from paying out-of-state tuition rates if they have attended high school in Utah for three or more years, graduated from a high school or received the equivalent of a high school diploma in the state and registered as an entering student at an institution of higher education.
The student must also file an affidavit with the school they are attending stating that they have filed an application to legalize their immigration status or will do so as soon as they are eligible or receive the opportunity.
However, Noemi Medina, the University of Utah's outreach and recruitment coordinator under the Office of Equity and Diversity, said there is currently no pathway to legalization for undocumented students.
"Signing the affidavit just means that they would legalize their status if they could, which makes sure the benefits of them getting educated stays within the United States," she said. "There are students that have graduated and still aren't able to legalize their status, but there is nothing else they can do until there is some sort of immigration reform."
There have been several attempts to repeal or amend the bill, such as H.B. 241 in 2008, Repeal of Exemptions from Nonresident Tuition, H.B. 208 in 2009, Modification of Exemption from Nonresident Tuition, and H.B. 191 in 2011, Nonresident Tuition Waiver Amendments. Nevertheless, H.B. 141 still stands.
Jorge Rodriguez of Utah Valley University's Wasatch Multicultural Services said undocumented students who believe they are eligible for in-state tuition rates should speak with their high school counselors as well as the financial aid offices at the universities they plan on attending.
He said there is not much variation between universities in Utah's requirements for eligibility, and contacting someone at the financial aid offices is the best way to find out if there are any differences.
"Students shouldn't wait until the last minute to get all the paperwork started, because it can be very confusing," he said. "There are freshman orientation sessions all universities require incoming students to go to before they can set up appointments for class enrollment. The sooner they begin the process, the sooner they can sign up for classes."
Figuring out if they are eligible for the nonresident tuition exemption could mean the difference between paying $600 for a course or $2,500. For example, a full-time semester course load of 12 hours at Utah Valley University would cost a resident $2,635 while a nonresident would have to pay $7,401.
At the University of Utah, a resident freshman pays $3,140 for a full-time semester course load of 12 hours while a nonresident pays $9,942, and Utah State University resident freshmen pay $3,191.67, U.S. nonresidents pay $9,245.09 and international students pay $9,754.31.
Resident tuition prices, nonetheless, can still be expensive for undocumented students from low income families, and Rodriguez said there are scholarships available to help them with the cost.
"Because UVU is a state university, any scholarship awarded through UVU has to fall under state and federal regulations for grant money. If students aren't U.S. citizens or legal residents, they're not eligible for those funds," he said. "However, there are several funds available through other means."
For example, Rodriguez said the Mexican Consulate, among other institutions, will occasionally award scholarships to students who qualify under the proposed DREAM Act. High school counselors and financial aid officers at colleges can also help to find more scholarship opportunities.
There are other ways to cut down the costs of tuition, and UVU does so by offering the Bridge Program. The program allows high school students to attend college courses in the summer, and Rodriguez said students graduating this year can still participate for a $35 fee.
Doing so will save students half a semester of tuition, he said. The application deadline was Monday, April 21, but Rodriguez said he may be able to take a couple of late admissions if he is contacted directly.
Medina and Rodriguez agree that the time to start figuring out how to reduce the cost of tuition is now if students haven't started already. There are plenty of options available, but students have to find them.
"Every school in Utah these students are accepted to will offer nonresident tuition exemptions, but only to those that meet the requirements," Medina said. "The requirements are mostly the same at all the universities, but students need to look at their school's websites and find out exactly what those requirements are."