The Daily Tar Heel

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Friday January 15th

Make ‘access’ meaningful: Allowing undocumented immigrants to attend community colleges not helpful if they can’t pay

Almost two weeks ago, the N.C. State Board of Community Colleges approved a policy that would allow undocumented immigrants to attend community college at out-of-state tuition rates.

Although this is a victory for achieving equity in college access, the initiative will have little practical effect.

In order for North Carolina to be a progressive state, it must grant undocumented immigrants in-state tuition status. Out-of-state rates are simply too expensive for most undocumented immigrants to afford, advocates say.

The current out-of-state tuition for an individual to attend community college totals $7,700 per year. This is more than $6,000 above the average in-state tuition.

Additionally, the community college system makes about $1,700 in profit for every out- of-state student.

Community colleges were created to develop the state’s workforce, not to make money.

But even notching down the tuition price by the profit margin won’t be enough to make community college a feasible option. Undocumented immigrants must simply be treated like everyone else who lives in the state.

In-state tuition is subsidized by taxpayer money; so naturally, the “who-is-going-to-pay-for-this” question arises.

However, most anti-immigrant rhetoric is built off of the false assumption that undocumented immigrants simply don’t pay taxes.

Anytime a person purchases an item from the grocery store, regardless of his documentation, he pays sales tax.

If that person owns property, he is paying taxes on that as well.

Two studies show that a high percentage of undocumented immigrants pay payroll taxes.

A Bush administration study put the figure at 50 percent. And according to the Social Security Administration, up to three-quarters of undocumented immigrants are thought to pay their payroll taxes.

A study conducted by the Center for Immigration Studies estimated that $7 billion of Social Security and Medicare revenue comes from undocumented immigrants on a national level. But these workers won’t see a penny of it.

Not having the proper documents does not necessarily exempt individuals from paying taxes. But it can preclude them from receiving benefits divvied out by our government.

Allowing undocumented immigrants to attend community college at in-state tuition rates isn’t a foreign concept either.

California, New York, Illinois, New Mexico and Texas have all adopted a plan that allows undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition for community colleges.

And if North Carolina wants to see development in its future workforce, it would be wise to do the same.

Undocumented immigrants make up a sizeable minority in the state that will need access to education to keep North Carolina a productive state.

Ron Bilbao, president of the UNC Coalition for College Access, feels that opening up community colleges to undocumented immigrants will mean little without in-state tuition or financial aid.

“We can’t keep giving these people hope and then take it away,” Bilbao said. “Something permanent needs to be done.”

But aside from all the statistics, the state needs to adopt this policy simply because access to education is a human right.

Our meritocratic society is based around the assurance that everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed — which is provided through access to education.

Undocumented immigrants are still very much integrated into our state, regardless of citizenship status. Their papers don’t make them residents, the location of their homes do.

By charging out-of-state tuition for people who are, for all intents and purposes, residents, we create a stratified environment that favors some more than others.

We can all pat ourselves on the back for the recent progress made, but until it has a tangible effect, the initiative is nothing but a hollow promise.

The next step must be taken. The state should grant undocumented immigrants in-state tuition.



Christian is a senior journalism and communications major from Charlotte. Contact him at

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