Talented Pattonville High School students often file into Julie Kampschroeder’s office seeking advice about college. As a college counselor, it’s her job to help them.
So, nothing breaks her heart more than telling an undocumented immigrant student — with an ACT score of 31 and dreams of a science, technology, engineering or math career — that college is going to be an uphill financial battle.
Those challenges could become more burdensome if an amendment added to Missouri’s upcoming budget remains.
Undocumented students already cannot receive state or federal financial aid. But the amendment, added by Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick, R-Shell Knob, would go further, barring public colleges and universities from offering in-state tuition to “unlawfully present” students.
Fitzpatrick hopes to avoid giving undocumented residents an unfair financial advantage.
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“As an employer, I can get in trouble for hiring someone who is here unlawfully,” Fitzpatrick said. “Yet, at a university, I can give them better tuition than somebody who lives five minutes from me on the other side of the state line.”
If this amendment remains in the budget, Missouri would be bucking the U.S. trend when it comes to educating these students.
Across the nation, at least 16 states, including Illinois, Kansas and Nebraska, allow certain undocumented individuals to receive in-state tuition, according to the National Immigration Law Center.
“The national conversation is all about recognizing young people who grew up in this country knowing no other home ... (and) who are committed to staying here,” said Tanya Broder, an attorney with the Center.
The University of Missouri-St. Louis took a step in that direction by allowing students to receive in-state tuition if they graduated from a Missouri high school. About six undocumented students are enrolled, UMSL spokesman Bob Samples said. However, the institution will follow any state law passed on the issue, Samples added.
St. Louis Community College also appeared to be making similar moves when it announced undocumented students would pay tuition based on where they lived. Previously, they paid an international student tuition rate — even if they lived within the college’s jurisdiction. Nine undocumented students began attending the college under this change, which went into effect in January, college spokesman DeLancey Smith said.
The college withdrew its change Jan. 16, however, stating in a release from Interim Chancellor Dennis Michaelis that it will wait for state direction on this “complicated matter.”
Broder said support for tuition breaks for undocumented students is now bipartisan, with in-state tuition policies implemented in red, blue and purple states. Even conservative states such as Texas and Utah allow this student group to receive in-state tuition.
In Missouri, however, keeping Fitzpatrick’s amendment to the bill received bipartisan support.
A Democrat attempted to strip the wording from the bill on the House floor last month. The effort failed, with members on both sides of the aisle voting against it.
The Senate Appropriations Committee is working through the fiscal year 2015 budget now. It likely will take up Fitzpatrick’s amendment this week. The committee’s chairman, Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, said Thursday he was not familiar with the budget wording.
The problem with this amendment, said Faith Sandler, Scholarship Foundation of St. Louis executive director, is it ignores the fact that the majority of students who fall into this category were brought to the U.S. by family members when they were young.
“What is it would we like them to do?” Sandler said. “We can’t wish them to go away.”
She and Kampschroeder agree these students could diversify the state’s workforce. Missouri shouldn’t be sending away students interested in science, engineering and math fields simply because they were brought here illegally as a child, Kampschroeder said.
“(This amendment) is the most frustrating and sad situation in my 25 years in public education,” Kampschroeder said. “We’re not being smart about keeping students in our state.”
Alex Stuckey covers Missouri politics and state government for the Post-Dispatch. Follow her on Twitter at @alexdstuckey.