All North Carolina students should have the opportunity to continue their education so they can gain the skills that will boost their careers and help modernize the state’s economy. However, North Carolina requires undocumented immigrant students to pay expensive out-of-state tuition, which can be an insurmountable cost for low- and moderate-income families.
Tuition Equity for Undocumented Students
Given the demographic and economic changes driving the state’s need for an educated workforce, supporting all students in their pursuit of post-secondary education is crucial to the state’s future. Tuition equity, which allows undocumented graduates of in-state high schools to pay in-state tuition at public universities or community colleges, is a cost-effective way to make sure North Carolina isn’t left behind, according to a new report from the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the NC Justice Center.
“Twenty states across the country have implemented such policies, which boost college enrollment, further the education of young immigrants, and improve their earnings,” said Alexandra Forter Sirota, director of the Budget & Tax Center and co-author of the report. “Reducing barriers to higher education for young immigrants, such as high cost, and ensuring the economy can take full advantage of their skills will improve the quality of the state’s labor force and make the state more attractive to businesses.”
As North Carolina’s population ages and diversifies, the state faces both demographic challenges and opportunities. The share of the state’s foreign-born labor force has increased by more than 500 percent since 1990, the report said, and as growth continues and the number of native-born workers stagnates, immigrants will play an increasingly vital role in the workforce. These demographic trends, combined with a growing demand for workers with post-secondary education, mean policymakers must focus on improving opportunities for immigrants if they hope to create good jobs and strengthen the state’s economy.
Barriers to post-secondary education obstruct climbing up the economic ladder, the report said, and undocumented students face particularly high obstacles, including low family income and a lack of information about the post-secondary education process in addition to high tuition costs. Currently, undocumented students in North Carolina are allowed to attend public colleges and universities in the state but are required to pay out-of-state tuition, which is nearly 300 percent higher, on average, than in-state tuition.
North Carolina is already obligated to invest in educating undocumented students in K-12 schools. By making it harder for these students to pursue a college education, the state is losing much of the value of that initial investment.
“Tuition equity for undocumented students is an important tool for furthering the state’s goal of increasing the education of its residents and ensuring that the workforce is ready for the jobs of the future,” Sirota said. “By lowering the cost barrier to college for undocumented students, North Carolina will come out ahead, with minimal costs and strong economic benefits.”