By Glynis Kazanjian
The cost of offering in-state college tuition to illegal immigrants who graduate from Maryland high schools might be significantly higher than estimated, since they were based only on figures from Montgomery College and none of the other community colleges.
After two hours of debate, the Senate passed the bill Monday night in a 27 to 20 vote, sending it to the House of Delegates for action.
The fiscal note prepared by the Department of Legislative Services, the research arm of General Assembly, said that state expenses for undocumented high school graduates could go up to $778,000 in fiscal 2014 and rise to $3.5 million in fiscal 2016.
But the document says the estimates are not reliable for a variety of factors, including policies of community colleges across the state that do not keep count of undocumented students.
“Fiscal notes are estimates,” said a legislative analyst who asked not to be identified. “This has been the way we have calculated fiscal estimates for this bill which has been in a number of times and has passed before. This is the only credible data we have to base a calculation on.”
The principal problem with the estimate is that it is based only on fiscal 2010 data provided by Montgomery College based in Rockville. The number is based on the 732 students for whom the college granted in-state tuition to in 2010, but did not request state aid because they believed the students were ineligible for various reasons, including being an illegal immigrant.
Legislative Services halved the number to come up with 366 students at approximately $2,050 each and doubled it each year thereafter in anticipation of future enrollment growth.
According to Legislative Services, 14 of the 16 community colleges in Maryland would not provide any data for the fiscal analysis. Some claimed they do not have undocumented students at their school to base data on. As noted in its report, Baltimore City Community College was not included because it operates under a different funding formula.
In FY2011, community colleges received $194 million in state aid for 94,855 students. Montgomery College represents 17,423 students in that count, or 18%.
Senate Republican Leader Nancy Jacobs, of Harford County, said the accuracy of the data was questioned by opponents of the legislation during earlier debate.
“They are not looking very far and they didn’t follow it out far enough,” Jacobs said. “Granted Montgomery College is going to have a very higher number [of students] because of their close proximity to Washington, D.C., but Prince George’s County would have higher numbers.”
The high price tag on the measure led Democratic Sen. Jim Brochin of Baltimore County to try to send the bill to the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee to be further analyzed for its impact, but the Senate rejected his motion in a 13 to 33 vote last Thursday.
“There is so much we could spend the money on with a higher priority,” Brochin said. “What the authors of the bill don’t understand is we’re going to be the haven on the East Coast where people with no documentation can get in-state tuition. If you want to make the case for community college, that it’s a rolling admission, you can make that case, although I do not agree with it. But you can’t make the case with College Park or any other four year institution. There are only a finite number of seats. The number of seats should not go to illegals.”
As amended, the bill requires an undocumented immigrant to attend a Maryland high school for three years and graduate or receive a high school equivalency, and attend a community college in the same jurisdiction as the high school.
That student would receive in-county tuition there before applying to a Maryland public university. If accepted at a four-year school, tuition would then be at the in-state rate.
For a student to receive this benefit, a parent or legal guardian is required to have paid Maryland income taxes, and the student must have begun the process to become a naturalized citizen.