Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

As Georgia considers ban on undocumented students, a wide gap in states' college policies

Photo by un.sospiro/Flickr (Creative Commons)

While obtaining a college education has become somewhat easier for undocumented students in California lately, it's becoming progressively more difficult in the South.

Georgia's state senate approved a bill this week that, if it becomes law, will make the state the third  after South Carolina and Alabama to ban undocumented students from attending public colleges and universities. Already, Georgia university officials had voted to bar these students from the state's top five universities, leading some professors in Athens, Georgia to create an underground teaching facility last year dubbed Freedom University.

There's a wide gap between what's been happening in South and what's been happening in the West. In California, for example, two new state laws allow undocumented students access to the state financial aid, as they have already in Texas and New Mexico (and to a lesser degree Illinois, which allows them access to private funding). And to fill in gaps, several Silicon Valley tycoons have joined forces to help fund a San Francisco nonprofit that provides scholarships, legal and career advice for undocumented students who arrived as minors.

But that's the West, where the foreign-born have long been a part of the population and many of the bigger immigration battles have already been fought. The South is only a recent destination for immigrants, mostly from Latin America, and the anti-illegal immigration measures there closely follow the demographic changes that have been taking place in each state.

Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama - the three states with college restriction measures - also happen to be among the top 10 states with the fastest-growing immigrant populations, with their foreign-born populations growing more than 280 percent in the last two decades. All three states, along with Utah and Indiana, recently enacted strict anti-illegal immigration laws similar to Arizona's SB 1070, which the U.S. Supreme Court will be taking up next month.

Which states make it relatively easy for undocumented immigrants to attend and pay for college, and which don't? The group being funded by the California tech entrepreneurs, Educators for Fair Consideration (E4FC), published this list updated in January:

Only thirteen states have passed laws that allow undocumented students to qualify for in-state tuition at the public colleges and universities in their state of residence: California, Connecticut, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin.

To receive the in-state tuition discount, undocumented students must reside in state, attend high school for a specified period (1-4 years) in state, and graduate or receive their GED in state. In addition to allowing students to qualify for in-state tuition, California, Illinois, New Mexico, and Texas provide undocumented students access to financial aid.

Arizona, Colorado, Georgia and Indiana have banned undocumented students from receiving in- state tuition. South Carolina was the first state to ban undocumented students outright from attending public colleges and universities, followed by Alabama.

For those who can attend college in states where in-state tuition is granted, the cost of a college education is far less expensive than it is at the out-of-state rate. Private universities are technically an option, but the cost over four years can range from $80,000 to $200,000, according to the E4FC site, making it a non-option for most undocumented students.

A more dated list of states' in-state tuition policies from the National Conference of State Legislatures provides more background on each state's laws.