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Colleges still weighing the effect of decision involving ‘DREAMer’ college students

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Robert Templin, the president of Northern Virginia
Community College. Photo by Mark Rhodes

In late April, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, a Democrat, extended a welcoming hand — along with eligibility for in-state college tuition — to a category of young undocumented immigrants living in Virginia. (see related story)

Previously, they would have had to pay much higher out-of-state tuition.

These students often are called “DREAMers” (because of the proposed federal Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act). Herring says about 8,100 of them are “lawfully present” in the commonwealth under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

That’s a program initiated by President Obama to permit thousands of young people — who in most cases were brought to the U.S. as children by their parents — to remain in the country.

“These ‘DREAMers’ are already Virginians in some very important ways,” Herring said in a statement accompanying his opinion.

“In most cases, they were raised here, they graduated from Virginia schools, and they have known no home but Virginia. They might be the valedictorian or salutatorian of their high school, but because they were brought here as children many years ago, an affordable education remains out of their reach,” Herring said.
The new policy is taking effect at a time when immigration has again become a hot-button issue in national politics.

Too early to tell
As colleges are preparing to open this fall, what repercussions Herring’s opinion will have on them is still unclear.

“It’s too early to say how this might affect admission and enrollment here or elsewhere,” says McGregor McCance, spokesperson for the University of Virginia.

Last fall, U.Va. had 10,183 in-state undergraduates, but only three students with DACA status, according to McCance.

He says U.Va. will follow the attorney general’s guidance, and await further information from the commonwealth about how to treat DACA students.

The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) has provided institutions with a long Q&A to help them understand the process involved in admitting DACA students.

One of the most prickly questions is: Who decides whether an undocumented student has established residence in the state?

SCHEV answers the question this way: “Ultimately … the institutions are responsible for determining if a student is domiciled in Virginia.”

At the College of William & Mary, Henry Broaddus, a former dean of admissions who was recently named vice president of strategic initiatives, says that having more DACA students eligible for in-state status is not likely to significantly change the dynamic of W&M’s applicant pool. “But I expect it will vary by institution,” he says.

Broaddus adds that, during the past few years, William & Mary has increased the number of slots for in-state freshmen. “That more than offsets any increase in competition created by making DACA students eligible for in-state tuition,” he says.

Because the college has a target of 65 percent in-state students and 35 percent out-of-state, the change in DACA students’ eligibility would not change the volume or proportion of out-of-state students, he says.

Big difference in costs
For the thousands of students potentially impacted by Herring’s opinion, the bottom-line costs for their families could be profound. See Tuition comparison chart.

Consider that at U.Va., with its most recent increases, in-state tuition and mandatory fees total $12,998 in the coming academic year. An out-of-state student would pay $42,184.

Overall in 2013-14, full-time, in-state undergraduate tuition and fees averaged $6,829 at four-year public institutions, according to the SCHEV. Out-of-state undergraduates paid more than three times that much, $22, 706.

If there is a surge of DREAMers entering Virginia’s public colleges and universities as a result of Herring’s opinion, Robert G. Templin Jr., president of the sprawling 75,000-student Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA), believes it will not occur this year.

“I think there will be a surge that will occur a year from now,” he says. “DACA-eligible students have to have that status for one-year. A lot of these young people have not achieved DACA.”

Templin expects an “increase this year, a larger increase next year, a larger increase the year after that.”

The qualifications for DACA eligibility include age at arrival in the U.S., length of residency here, no criminal record and enrollment or graduation from a high school, receipt of GED or honorable discharge from the U.S. military.

Community colleges
Templin believes that most DACA students will start in community colleges because of the lower costs. He estimates that about 300 students enrolled at NOVA in the most recent academic year were undocumented.

For a student paying in-state rates at a community college the tuition runs $3,570, a relative bargain.

Currently, approximately 60 percent of Virginia’s undergraduate students are enrolled in community colleges.

Templin notes that more than a third of Latino students in higher education in Virginia are at NOVA, and Latinos represent the nation’s fastest-growing minority in the nation’s colleges and universities.

This past year, NOVA had 9,500 Latino students and 7,300 Asian students.

“I expect an increase of 8 to 10 percent per year for the next four or five years in those categories,” Templin says.

The NOVA president says the news from the attorney general’s office was welcomed in Northern Virginia. “From the Virginia business perspective, all business groups have been in favor of this action for quite some time,” he says.  “We have a shortage of highly qualified workers, and Virginia needs a highly skilled workforce. It is important to our future and in our own collective self-interest.”

Demographic shift
The latest turn of events reflects a massive demographic shift that has been occurring in Virginia.

A March 2014 census brief from the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service at the University of Virginia notes that today one in nine Virginians is foreign-born.  Compare that with 1970, when only one in 100 were born outside the U.S.

Moreover, 68 percent of all foreign-born Virginia residents are clustered in Northern Virginia, where they account for 23 percent of the area’s population, according to the Weldon Cooper report.

A report last year by the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE), forecast a sharp rise in the percentage of Hispanic and Asian/Pacific Islander high school graduates in Virginia during the next decade.

Hispanics are projected to increase from 6 percent of Virginia’s high school graduates in 2008-09 to 16 percent in 2023-24, and Asian/Pacific Islanders will double from 6 to 12 percent of the total over approximately the same period.

Meanwhile, white non-Hispanics will decline from 63 percent of the public high school graduating class in 2008-09 to 52 percent by 2017-18. Black non-Hispanics will drop from 24 percent to 21 percent, according to WICHE projections.

Political opposition
The DREAMers opinion from Herring brushed past the state legislature’s decision not to approve Dream Act bills during this year’s session.

It also drew a sharp rebuke from William J. Howell, the speaker of the Republican-dominated House of Delegates, who decried what he said was Herring’s unilateral action.

“These decisions should be decided through the legislative and democratic processes,” Howell said in a statement.

Across the country, 19 states, including Virginia’s northern neighbor, Maryland, have enacted some form of in-state tuition for qualified young DREAMer students.

The other states are: Texas, California, Utah, New York, Washington, Illinois, Kansas, New Mexico, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Connecticut, Colorado, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon, Hawaii, Michigan and Rhode Island.

In Maryland, the high school graduation rate among Latinos increased in one year from 72.5 to 75.1 percent, when DREAMers were offered in-state tuition.

The surge among Hispanics was the largest percentage gain of any racial or ethnic subgroup.

Herring says Maryland officials believe it is because students who may have once dropped out are now completing high school because they see realistic options for continuing education.

Stella Flores, an associate professor of public policy at Vanderbilt University, found in a 2010 study that foreign-born, noncitizen Latinos living in states offering in-state tuition were 1.5 times more likely to enroll in college.

“The advantage is that you increase human capital,” Flores says. “There is a large economic benefit out of this.”

Moving forward, Herring’s action has potentially far-reaching political, educational and financial implications for Virginia.

On the political side, longtime U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor, who had reached the rank of House Majority Leader, was ousted during a primary battle in June by a tea party-backed opponent, Randolph-Macon College professor David Brat, who criticized Cantor’s position on immigration.

In a 2013 address at the American Enterprise Institute, for example, Cantor endorsed a path to citizenship for DREAMers.

In the last days of the campaign, Cantor seemed to backpedal on immigration reform, sending out a mailer stressing his opposition to “amnesty” for “illegal aliens.”

The immigration issue dominated headlines in July as the U.S. dealt with a wave of unaccompanied children from Central America trying to enter the country. President Obama asked Congress for $3.7 billion in emergency funds to beef up border security, care for the children and expedite deportation proceedings.

But for Herring, talking about immigration policies and in-state tuition for DREAMers was smart politics, says Stephen J. Farnsworth, director of the Center for Leadership and Media Studies at the University of Mary Washington.

Farnsworth says Herring is getting his name out front as he eyes a run for governor in the next gubernatorial election cycle.

In that respect, Farnsworth says that Herring is taking a page from Ken Cuccinelli, his Republican predecessor as attorney general. Cuccinelli’s opinions on hot-topic issues raised his profile and helped him capture the GOP nomination for governor, a race he eventually lost to Democrat Terry McAuliffe.

“Ken Cuccinelli and Mark Herring may not agree on much,” Farnsworth says, but what they do agree on is that “an attorney general is best served by being a vigorous partisan advocate.”

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