State statute allows new policy for students

Three students at UW-Eau Claire currently are taking advantage of a new state statute that allows undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition at UW schools, said Kris Anderson, director of the university’s admissions office.

“It’s a very small population of undocumented students that we have,” Anderson said.

The state introduced a policy allowing undocumented residents to pay in-state tuition at UW System schools as part of the 2009-11 state budget, system spokesman David Giroux said. The budget provision now is a state statute, he said.

Undocumented immigrants must meet three criteria before they can take advantage of the statute. They must be graduates from a high school in Wisconsin and have lived in the state for at least three consecutive years, Giroux said. They also must prove that they have filed or plan to file an application for a permanent resident visa as soon as possible, he said.

“It’s treating these Wisconsin residents as Wisconsin residents,” Giroux said.

Giroux noted that the students can’t receive “preferential treatment” when applying to UW schools, meaning they must undergo the same admissions process that other students go through.

“They have to have the grades, the test scores and the well-rounded résumé to get accepted to a UW campus,” he said.

Giroux also said undocumented students are not eligible for federal or state financial aid, though he and Anderson both said they may be eligible for some privately funded scholarships.

Of the handful of students interviewed, all said they supported the statute allowing undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition.

“I guess I’m OK with it,” senior Chelsea Kufalk said. “No problem with me.”

Kufalk said she felt better about the statute after learning that undocumented immigrants are required to promise they will apply to become legal U.S. residents before being allowed to pay in-state tuition. She also said she thought it was fair that students were not eligible for certain federal- or state-funded grants or financial aid packages, explaining that even she isn’t eligible for some of those grants.

Junior Ellen Buelow also said she supported the statute.

“I think it’s a good idea because both they benefit and we benefit from this,” she said. “And I’ve heard stories of people who have studied here, or started as a job like picking oranges or something in California, and now they’re doctors here. I think it’s good.”

Giroux said part one of the statute’s goals is to help give immigrants here an educational leg-up so that they can take on higher-paying jobs once they become legal citizens.

“When they do become legal residents, they’re able to enter the workforce with a high level of skill . and they can pay more taxes,” Giroux said. “It’s in our best interest.”