09/10/2013 12:17 pm ET Updated Nov 10, 2013

One State, One Rate: Campaign for Tuition Equality

Early Monday morning student organizers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill launched the One State, One Rate campaign, petitioning the State to afford undocumented students in North Carolina the right to in-state tuition.

According to the National Immigration Law Center, 15 states already have laws allowing undocumented students to attend state colleges and universities at the same tuition rate as documented students in their state.

One of the leaders of the campaign, Emilio Vicente, a junior public policy major, says that as an undocumented student he "would like to see UNC come out in support for in-state tuition for undocumented students," and "hope[s] that the state, as a whole, reflects on what it's doing to undocumented students, preventing them from reaching their full potential."

Earlier this summer, advocates supporting the extension of in-state tuition to undocumented high school graduates rallied in support of House Bill 904. The bill, filed this April during the current 2013-14 session of the North Carolina General Assembly, would grant in-state tuition to all undocumented students attending a University of North Carolina or state community college who satisfy all of the following requirements

(1) The person received a high school diploma from a secondary or high school within North Carolina or received a GED within North Carolina.

(2) The person attended North Carolina schools for a minimum of two consecutive years immediately prior to high school graduation.

(3) If the person does not have lawful immigration status, then the person shall also file an affidavit with the constituent institution to which the person is enrolled stating that the person has filed an application to legalize his or her immigration status or will file an application as soon as he or she is eligible to do so.

(4) The person satisfies the admission standards for the constituent institution or community college to which the person applied and has secured admission and enrolled as a student at the constituent institution.

The enactment clause of the current version of HB904 would have granted in-state tuition to students for the 2013-2014 academic year in early July. Yet, HB904 has lain dormant in committee since the day of its first reading on April 15.

With no visible legislative momentum in the North Carolina General Assembly at the moment, the Tar Heel organizers have joined the ranks of many in the state demanding equality of educational opportunity.

Successful opponents of similar measures in other states have campaigned on the premise that extending this benefit to undocumented students is a drain on the economy.

However, the current situation is unacceptable on both a moral and public policy level. Extending in-state tuition rates to undocumented students rewards them for achieving at the same academic level as in-state students with established legal residency, while doing so under the extreme pressures of being an undocumented person in this country -- documented poignantly in an op-ed by leaders of the One State, One Rate campaign to UNC Chapel Hill's student-run newspaper the Daily Tar Heel.

While it is morally wrong to deny a person an equal access to education when they have done nothing to deserve anything else, assuming for the sake of argument that one was not persuaded by a sense of social justice, extending in-state tuition to undocumented students makes sense for the entire state on a policy level.

Only around 2 percentof graduating high school students in the class of 2013 held undocumented status. Of that 2 percent, only 5 to 10 percent will go on to attend college; that's around two-hundreths (.002) percent of all college attendees at best.

Under the current circumstances, giving undocumented students the chance to attend the colleges and universities in the state of North Carolina will only increase the amount of money flowing into the schools -- it is more likely that undocumented students will not attend college at all or go to schools outside the North Carolina system than that they will pay a tuition rate often two to three times greater.

Keeping high-achieving students in the state of North Carolina makes sense for the growth of the North Carolina economy. This is the same principle behind the current push for immigration reform that would work to keep high achieving visa students in America by giving them a pathway to citizenship. Though North Carolina's House Bill 904 would not extend citizenship, it would perpetuate a highly skilled and highly educated workforce ready to tackle and contribute to the growth of the state's changing economy.

"I know the struggles of being undocumented," Vicente says, "and hope that in the future there are no students whose education is hindered simply because of their immigration status."


Check out the One State, One Rate campaign at and on Facebook at