Accessibility links

Breaking News

Tennessee Mulls Tuition Break for Undocumented Students

FILE - Students attend graduation ceremonies, Aug. 6, 2011.

Lawmakers in the southern U.S. state of Tennessee are close to passing an ordinance that would allow undocumented students to pay less expensive college tuition rates.

Undocumented students who were brought into the U.S. illegally as children do not qualify for the federal or state financial aid that makes college more affordable. And in Tennessee, like several other U.S. states, they are required to pay out-of-state tuition rates that are often double the price that residents pay.

If approved, the lower fees and tuition would be available to students who attend a state high school or home-school program for two years whether they are legal or not.

Bill sponsor and Republican State Representative Mark White says that by providing affordable tuition, the state is helping these students assimilate.

"I'm just trying to protect Tennessee in the long run, because they're here," he said. "I'm all for building the wall and U.S. sovereignty, closing our borders. … But we didn't, and now we're damaging innocent people."

Barbara Prescott, a member of the Tennessee Board of Regents and a supporter of the bill, says charging undocumented students higher prices turns many away from higher education.

"They are so dedicated, they want so much to be in college, and for them to not be able to get any other aid, and then. … to have to pay out-of-state tuition, just really robs them of access," she told local media.

Critics of the legislation say it could encourage more undocumented immigrants to move to the state.

If passed, Tennessee will become the 21st state to offer in-state tuition to undocumented students.