The Oregon University System estimates 38 undocumented immigrants will attend one of its seven public universities in the 2013-14 academic year at in-state tuition prices as a result of the Oregon Legislature’s tuition equity bill.

The bill, which was enacted July 1, will grant in-state tuition for undocumented students who have attended school in the United States for a minimum of five years. In order to qualify for in-state tuition, students must have graduated from an Oregon high school after three years of attendance and also must intend to take the necessary steps toward becoming a citizen or lawful permanent resident.

❯❯ Financial barriers for undocumented students

The estimated cost of in-state tuition for the 2012-13 academic year for a full-time student enrolled in 12 credits for three terms of college per year fell just short of $11,000. The estimated cost for a student paying out-of-state tuition under the same conditions totaled nearly $23,000, making for a difference of $12,000 in price for undocumented immigrants.

Endi Hartigan, a communication associate for the OUS, said so far 12 students from across the seven universities have applied to receive in-state tuition. “We didn’t expect really high numbers,” Hartigan said. “Even with in-state tuition, the cost can be a barrier for students even without federal financial aid.”

The OUS estimates offering in-state tuition to eligible undocumented youth will generate a revenue of $1.9 million to the state by 2017. Chris Maples, president of Oregon Institute of Technology, said they have yet to receive any admissions applications from local undocumented immigrants.

“We’re not entirely sure what kind of impact this bill is going to have on our campus, but to the best of my knowledge, Oregon Tech currently does not have an undocumented immigrant population,” Maples said.

While the new opportunity for undocumented immigrants won’t create much of an impact in terms of a more socioeconomically and racially diverse campus, Maples said the university doesn’t rely on legislation to create a more diverse student body.

“Through our outreach programs with our local schools, we continue to work on creating a diverse student body,” Maples said. “While legislation could help us with that, we rely on ourselves to create a diverse student body on our campus.”

❯❯ An economic benefit for the state

Luis Guerra, executive director of Causa, Oregon’s statewide immigrant rights organization and the largest Latina and Latino human rights and advocacy organization in the Pacific Northwest, said the Legislature’s approval of the bill was the right move for Oregon.

“It’s good for Oregon for economic reasons and because it’s just the right thing to do,” Guerra said. “The state invests a lot into educating the undocumented immigrants in public schools, and they should have the ability to go to college.”

Though the bill doesn’t allow undocumented youth access to federal financial aid, Guerra said the bill will be a step in providing an education to the undocumented students in the state. “It will still be expensive for them to attend college, but paying in-state tuition prices will help. They won’t have financial aid, and that’s something we need to continue to work for, but we take it one step at a time in allowing them to get an education.”

While the bill impacts very few undocumented students in Oregon, Jim Ludwick, communications director for Oregonians for Immigration Reform, said the bill is a slap in the face to American citizens.

“The university system relies on out-of-state tuition, and it’s not right that American citizens are being denied this benefit that illegal aliens are getting,” Ludwick said. “It suggests that there is no longer any value in being an American citizen.”

Guerra said that while the cost of a college education will remain unaffordable for the thousands of undocumented youth in the state, the price reduction that comes with the opportunity to pay in-state tuition has become a significant victory for the state’s immigrant community.

“I think we’re going to see that this decision is what’s best for the state,” Guerra said. “While Congress works on immigration reform, other states will follow Oregon’s lead because of the success this will bring.”