Last night, the DREAMers did it again. They took a hopeful message and their own personal stories to a new audience, asking members of the Winston-Salem City Council to support a resolution on in-state tuition for North Carolina high school graduates, regardless of immigration status. The DREAMers keep insisting that our public policies must reflect our deepest values of fairness and equal opportunity, showing that the power of people is stronger than inhumane laws and a broken immigration system.
Members of the Let’s Learn NC campaign and the Adelante Education Coalition are hitting the road, gathering in community centers and places of worship, and building support for House Bill 904, which would alter state law to allow for the same college tuition rates for all NC students. Leaders of the campaign like to remind us that higher education should be equally accessible to all state residents—that tuition equality is good for our students AND for our state. The numbers certainly bear that out: tuition equity policies were associated with a 31% increase in college enrollment, a decrease in the average dropout rate by 7 percentage points—from 42% to 35%—and a $22,000 higher median earned income for someone with a bachelor’s degree as opposed to someone with only a high school diploma.
You may have heard NPR’s recent story about a rise in Latino college enrollment, based on a new report from the Pew Hispanic Center. Nationally, we are seeing a record-high college enrollment rate for Latinos. It’s the first time Latinos have surpassed white and black students, even as they lag behind Asian-Americans. The Latino high school dropout rate has fallen by half over the past decade—from 28 percent in 2000 to 14 percent in 2011. This translates to seven in 10 Latino high school graduates from the class of 2012 going to college.
It is interesting, and telling, that the national report featured student stories from Maryland and not North Carolina. The State of Maryland passed in-state tuition for immigrant students last year, but North Carolina’s legislative leaders have not seen a way forward in this regard. Even in the 15 states where in-state tuition is available to immigrant students, families are worried about college affordability, crippling student debt and uncertainty about life after college overall.
Leaders of North Carolina’s DREAM movement are convinced that success is inevitable when it comes to winning a policy of tuition equity, even if it will take a couple of years to build the support needed and outmaneuver state legislative leaders who, right now, are more committed to regressive policies than positive investments in our people and our future.
The DREAM movement deserves a lot of the credit for a bold strategy that forced President Obama’s hand and delivered the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program last June. That was a win that even the most hopeful and engaged advocates didn’t see coming.