The Joint Committee on Higher Education held a hearing today on a bill I’ve co-sponsored and proudly support: S566, An Act Regarding Higher Education Opportunities for High School Graduates in the Commonwealth.
This bill would allow students who have attended high school in the Commonwealth for three or more years, have graduated or attained the equivalent thereof in the Commonwealth, have a Taxpayer Identification Number, and who have registered for the Selective Service where required to be eligible to pay in-state tuition rates and fees at Massachusetts state colleges, universities, or community colleges
The American dream has always been that the generation that succeeds us should have a better standard of living than we do. I believe we should be making sure that young men and women have the ability to make a better life for themselves and their future families than their parents had – but unless they have the opportunity to gain a college education, that isn’t likely to happen.
I understand that many people have concerns about extending this opportunity to students who are undocumented. I think it’s important to note that the students we are talking about came to this country when they were very young, brought here by their parents through no choice of their own. Most have lived here as long as they can remember, and consider America to be their home. These are students who have attended school alongside your own children for years, who worked hard to achieve good grades, who are tax-paying members of our state and country, and in many cases who are serving our country in Iraq and Afghanistan.
I became passionate about this issue after meeting a young man in Acton. For the purpose of this blog, let’s call him Emilio. Emilio came to Massachusetts from Brazil with his mother when he was very young. She cannot afford to pay the out-of-state tuition rate for a state school, so he has been going to school credit by credit, semester by semester, for about eight years to earn his degree. In the meantime, he works at a supermarket to make ends meet. Emilio is a bright, capable young man, and he feels like he can be so much more and do so much more, but he is held back by not being able to earn a degree. He pays taxes, did well in school, and has never been in a lick of trouble with the law. He is a fine, upstanding citizen in all senses of the word but one. There is a basic unfairness to this – and a loss to the Commonwealth – because this young man is being prevented from reaching his full potential.
Because of the moral implications of this law, I would support it even if it cost the state money. But in fact, it will generate revenue for the state – not a small consideration in these difficult fiscal times. According to the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, it would generate between $1.8 million and $2.1 million in the first year of implementation, and between $6.4 million and $7.4 million by the fourth year. How, you ask? According to the MTF, the tuition and fee payments, even at in-state rates, would represent net revenues to the state, since public colleges would incur little or no added costs in accommodating the small number of students we’re talking about – a few hundred students per year.
The Commonwealth would also see a long-term gain, as it helps create a more educated, more productive, and more stable workforce. We’re all better off as more people gain degrees, and the education and skills they need to contribute to our growing economy.
Although in recent years immigration has become an incredibly polarizing issue, in many states this isn’t seen as a conservative issue or a liberal one – just a matter of common sense. At least 11 other states have recognized the benefits of this law and passed similar legislation—states that are hardly bastions of liberalism, including Texas, Utah, Nebraska, New Mexico, and Kansas. These have been bipartisan bills in these other states, having been signed into law by Republican Governors in Texas and Utah.
Whether you approach this issue as a matter of fairness, a matter of economics, or a matter of revenue, passing this bill is the right thing to do,