Among the over 20 bills enacted by Gov. Ralph Northam in early April were companion bills expanding in-state tuition to undocumented residents of Virginia. University administrators have noted these policy changes and are “evaluating the impact,” according to University Spokesperson Brian Coy.
“We are in the process of evaluating the impact of the legislation and practical costs and benefits of expanding access to additional DACA students and undocumented students in an inclusive internal process,” Coy said.
For the first time since 1996, the Democratic Party holds the majority of seats in both the House and Senate of the Virginia General Assembly. This shift in political control has, in part, enabled the formulation and enactment of certain legislation that was previously unpopular and unsuccessful. Other legislation Northam signed pertained to LGBTQ+ discrimination, gun safety, the environment and criminal justice.
“Broadly speaking, these are some of those laws that would have been hard to imagine just three years ago, when Gov. [Terry] McAuliffe, D-Va., had to deal with a pretty solid Republican legislature,” noted Miles Coleman, associate editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball. “With a friendly legislature, Northam [is] starting to make Virginia's image look more progressive, like that of a typical blue state — given the political trends here, that's perhaps justified.”
SB 935 and HB 1547 allow students living in the United States without documentation, but who still meet Virginia residency standards, to be eligible for in-state tuition at Virginia colleges and universities.
In order to meet the qualification requirements, these individuals must meet three criteria. First, they must have attended high school for at least two years in the Commonwealth and either graduated or passed a high school equivalency examination on or after July 1, 2008. Second, the individual must have submitted evidence that they or, in the case of a dependent student, at least one parent, guardian or person standing in loco parentis has filed Virginia income tax returns for at least two years prior to the date of registration or enrollment. Third, the individual must register as an entering student or already be enrolled in a public institution of higher education in the Commonwealth.
Any undocumented students who meet these criteria will now be eligible for in-state tuition regardless of their citizenship or immigration status.
Fourth-year College student Nicole Leal, the president of DREAMers on Grounds, commented on this policy change in an email with The Cavalier Daily.
“The significance of this decision is huge for prospective undocumented students in all Virginia schools,” Leal said. “Up until now, undocumented students have faced insurmountable barriers — including the access to a higher education.”
This law leaves it up to the schools themselves to matriculate and provide adequate mental, physical, financial and academic support for undocumented students when they matriculate at any given Virginia college or university.
While Northern Virginia Community College and George Mason University do allow the matriculation of undocumented students without DACA status, the University of Virginia does not.
Additionally, there are very few undocumented students with DACA currently enrolled at the University. Although the University expanded financial aid to include in-state students with DACA status in the fall of 2019, that new policy benefits only 22 students, and out-of-state students with DACA status remain ineligible for financial aid.
“If this University wants to claim itself as accessible and diverse, both the administration and student body need to start pushing for the matriculation of undocumented students at U.Va.,” Leal said.
This policy change, along with over 20 other bills signed by Northam, will become effective on July 1.