Texas lawmakers are debating whether to repeal the Texas Dream Act. Signed by then-Governor Rick Perry in 2001, the law allows some undocumented students to pay in-state tuition. A recent analysis by the Texas Tribune found that the majority of undocumented students paying tuition in the state aren’t attending four-year universities — they’re at community colleges. And most of them are in school here in North Texas.
Like many immigrants, Alejandra Miranda and her parents left their native El Salvador for a “better life”. It was 12 years ago. She is now 23 and enrolled at North Lake College in Irving. As she sat in a busy campus dining hall, she spoke about coming to terms with her status as an undocumented student.
“I didn’t understand much about the situation or how difficult it was until I graduated from high school and needed to step into the real world,” Miranda said. . “It was very difficult when it came to finding a job.”
The 23-year-old said she believed going to university was the best thing she could do to improve herself. She plans to major in commerce. Still, she had doubts when she enrolled in North Lake.
“For a long time, you know, when I was going to school, I had one of those times where I wondered why I was in school if I couldn’t go further until I realize what to do with my situation,” she said.
Miranda receives no financial aid, but works 20 hours a week managing the store on the student campus. That job combined with an in-state tuition, she said, makes school a bit more affordable.
Critics say the Texas Dream Act is unfair to students who are here legally, and that colleges and universities should not give undocumented college students what they consider a discount. Some lawmakers have said resources should instead be directed to legal residents, but not everyone agrees.
“We understand that others may question the investment in individuals,” said Joe May, district chancellor of Dallas County Community College. “We think exactly the opposite; we need to invest in people.
Only two percent of Texas higher education students are undocumented and pay the lowest rate, but more than three-quarters attend community colleges. In 2013, the DCCCD enrolled 3,691 undocumented tuition students in the state, the most of any college in the state, according to the Texas Tribune report and data from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.
May said he respects the opinions of others, but called it a “human capital” issue.
“What we’re doing is helping them prepare to contribute to the economy and giving them the education they need to land great jobs. said May. “And hopefully [they will] to be able to produce future university graduates because they have children and their children live here in the community, so that we can improve the quality of life for everyone here.
To qualify for in-state tuition, undocumented students must have graduated from a public or private Texas high school, or have received a GED. They must also sign an affidavit stating that they plan to apply for permanent residence. And they must have lived in Texas for three years.
As in Dallas County, Tarrant County College officials say they’d rather see students in school than out of school. TCC had over 2,000 undocumented students in 2013.
“We at our Registrar’s offices want to be able to help students access education here at TCCC,” said David Ximenez, Associate Vice Chancellor for Enrollment Services. “For me to be able to see that we have a top three in the state a number of students that we can help through this provision, that was satisfying and nice for me to see.”
Ximenez said most students choose community college because it’s convenient to where they live or work and more affordable. At TCC, a student who qualifies for in-state tuition pays $55 per hour versus $216 per hour.
Back in North Lake, Miranda said she had a message for other students in her situation.
“Find out about everything that’s going on,” she said. “I know there will be doubts either ‘Am I going to school? Am I not going to school? and I’m just recommending everyone to try school This is one of the biggest advantages.
Miranda said she knew the next big hurdle after school was becoming a legal permanent resident. She hopes that will happen in a few years.