On Monday, a reporter asked Margaret Spellings her thoughts on granting in-state tuition for undocumented students. Spellings seemed to hesitate slightly, replying: “I come from a state that that’s been a long standing policy of the state.” Though prefacing that “obviously the Board of Governors and the legislature need to weigh in on this,” she stated, “I’ve seen it be successful in Texas — in a state with many, many miles of borders.”
When it comes to in-state tuition for undocumented students on this campus, many might think of the issue in terms of activism. For years now, student organizers, professors and experts have been pressing for North Carolina to grant in-state tuition to undocumented students. They have tirelessly worked through many avenues, including the One State One Rate campaign, for which this board has previously expressed its support.
But this admirable campaign has gone on for so long that it has become possible to lose sight of the context of this issue beyond the University or beyond our state’s current climate of divisive politics.
Thanks to pushback from North Carolina lawmakers, it has become easy to forget a few facts: Granting in-state tuition for undocumented students is not innately partisan. It is not innately divisive. In fact, it is not innately controversial.
And on Monday morning, the proud partisan Spellings actually reminded us of this.
She reminded us of a history of measures to grant in-state tuition in many other states — at least 18 others, to be exact. And the common denominator among these states is not the partisanship of their citizens or their governments. Rather, it is the large size of the undocumented populations in these states.
Spellings’ statement reminds us that this discussion does not need to be heated, nor in most states is it relegated to a sphere of activism. In most states with undocumented populations the size of North Carolina’s, it is law. This includes traditionally conservative states like Texas.
These states have crafted the commonsense, across-the-aisle solution: To grant in-state tuition to those undocumented students that have graduated from public high schools.
Spellings should publicly recognize that granting in-state tuition to undocumented students is both a logical and moral fulfillment of the University’s mission.
For Spellings to advocate for this would be in line with her own rhetoric of affordability and of education as a tool of social mobility. From the precedent laid in 1982 in the landmark Supreme Court case Pyler v. Doe, we have guaranteed undocumented students the right to public education through high school. And we have left it to the states to decide whether these students can affordably pursue public higher education as well.
If Spellings truly believes that higher education is a new fundamental right, then she should seize this opportunity to pressure lawmakers to allow undocumented students to access this right.
But we are not simply relying on Spellings to respond to this issue. We strongly encourage students on our campus and residents of our community to continue exerting pressure on Spellings and our lawmakers.
This is not an issue decided by party lines, but by fundamental promises of opportunity.