Undocumented students, like millions of other students in the United States, have the ambition to succeed. College opportunities are often priceless for these students. And though a degree can mean many things—like financial security and greater opportunities—a college diploma signifies perseverance in the face of hardship for many of these families.
In Florida, these dreams of pursuing higher education and achieving financial success are in jeopardy. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis recently announced a legislative proposal that would eliminate in-state tuition for undocumented immigrant students, many of whom were brought to this country as small children and have only ever known Florida as home.
Currently, Florida House Bill 851 allows undocumented students meeting certain criteria, such as graduating from a Florida high school, to apply for out-of-state tuition fee waivers. These allow undocumented students living in Florida, including DACA recipients, to pay in-state tuition at state colleges and universities.
If Florida eliminates out-of-state tuition fee waivers, undocumented students’ tuition fees could instantly double, causing financial hardship for themselves and their families and locking them out of higher education. Many immigrant parents and their children work multiple jobs each term to pay for tuition.
The original fee waiver bill, signed into law by then Gov. Rick Scott in 2014, passed the Florida legislature with strong bipartisan support. “It’s a bill that I would sign again today,” said now Florida Sen. Rick Scott in a recent interview.
For the senator, in-state tuition is a commonsense solution that allows undocumented students to achieve their goal of pursuing higher education. This not only improves the lives of their families, but significantly strengthens the state’s economy.
The Economic Consequences for Florida
If in-state tuition for Dreamers and undocumented students is repealed, the economic consequences facing Florida are devastating. When Texas considered a similar proposal, the Council’s research showed the state risked losses of $213.6 million in wage earnings and $184.2 million in spending power without these graduates. That’s nearly $400 million in lost economic activity in just one year.
Additionally, these students continuously contribute immensely to their states’ economy. Research in Texas shows that these students, even with only some college, earn more than $45.3 million in additional wages, creating an additional $39 million in economic activity. In fact, our research shows that each graduating class of Dreamers adds $397.8 million directly to the Texas economy, not only through their increased earnings, but also through additional economic and tax revenue they generate through increased spending. It’s no wonder then that, since 2001, undocumented graduates have generated an additional $17 billion in economic activity in Texas, significantly bolstering the state’s economy.
By repealing in-state tuition, Florida would stand to lose similar economic gains and face equally dramatic economic losses.
Business leaders across the country are alarmed by moves from certain states to roll back in-state tuition. They continue to tout the important role that young immigrants play in addressing workforce shortages across the country. Key industries, such as engineering and healthcare, face shortages that depend on recent graduates filling them. For business leaders, keeping in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants is of the utmost importance.
Other Republican States Take the Opposite Approach
Gov. DeSantis’ proposal is not only a challenge for the business community in Florida but is out of line with positions taken up by other Republican leaders across the county.
With all the attention on Florida right now, it’s easy to forget that other conservative states, such as Utah, have made efforts to make education accessible to all, regardless of immigration status.
Utah, like Florida, has a Republican trifecta in its state assembly. Nonetheless, Utah has its own take on immigration. Utah is one of the most immigrant-friendly states, offering undocumented students financial aid in addition to in-state tuition, driver’s permits regardless of immigration status, and professional licenses to DACA recipients. These initiatives have been lauded by Republican business leaders in Utah, who believe that Dreamers gaining access to higher education benefits local economies.
Arizona is another recent example. Both the Arizona state house and senate are Republican-led, and yet with their initiative, Proposition 308 made it to the ballot box, where citizens in Arizona made their voice heard and supported in-state tuition for Dreamers and undocumented students.
If other Republican-led states can support Dreamers, why can’t Florida? Gov. DeSantis’s proposal is out of touch with his party’s values. By repealing out-of-state tuition fee waivers, Gov. DeSantis will directly harm the lives of thousands of Dreamers and significantly hurt his own state’s economy. It is simply bad policy.