Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

September 3, 2013

MARK HEINIG: Affordable college lets undocumented contribute, not just consume

State should repeal law denying them in-state tuition.

Kokomo Tribune

---- — The Kokomo Tribune’s editorial Aug. 7 examined a problem that probably won’t disappear. In 2011, we passed a law requiring students at state-supported colleges verify citizenship or legal residence to qualify for in-state tuition. I agree with the Tribune: Indiana should repeal this law.

The law’s supporters think permitting the undocumented residing in Indiana to pay instate tuition is unfair to Hoosier taxpayers. Whether unfair or not, repealing the law wouldn’t help taxpayers or state universities. Because undocumented students can’t get federal financial aid, paying out-of-state tuition is impossible for many of them.

What purpose does this law serve? According to the Tribune, out-of state tuition at IU Kokomo is 2.8 times higher than in-state tuition. Undocumented students who can’t afford to pay that much drop out or don’t enroll and pay nothing at all. That decreases the income of the university and, indirectly, the income of the state of Indiana. A full-time IUK student’s course load is 15 credit hours per semester. At $198 per credit hour, the total tuition would be about $2,970 per semester.

When I became a principal and began preparing my first school budget, I quickly realized I could enroll more students without increasing the school’s expenses. A school’s greatest expense is salaries, primarily teachers’ salaries. They consume 70 to 80 percent of the school’s annual revenue. According to the Indiana State Teachers Association, the average salary of an Indiana public school teacher is $50,407 per year or $25,203.50 per semester.

A teacher who earns that amount for teaching five classes of fifteen students seldom earns more by teaching larger classes. The extra students increase the school’s income more than its expenses. The same principle should apply to state-supported colleges. If undocumented students can afford in-state tuition, they don’t drop out. The taxpayers get an additional $198 per credit hour instead of nothing at all. What’s unfair about that?

Immigration is a popular topic among journalists. Although it’s always controversial, it seems to be getting more attention lately. That’s ironic, because we are a nation of immigrants. People were moving here from all over the globe long before Great Britain established 13 colonies along our Atlantic coast. They came for various reasons, but civil liberties, religious freedom and economic opportunity convinced many of them to abandon their homelands and begin new lives on an unknown continent.

Each of these motives is enticing, but economic opportunity probably has the broadest appeal. Mankind has only been gathering statistics about human migration for a few generations, but we don’t need numbers to prove that economic advantage is a powerful incentive for immigration.

Logic is the only proof we need. No matter how persuasive other motivators are, few people would move to a distant land without the prospect of a higher standard of living. I used to tell my history students the people who came to the New World weren’t the folks who lived well in the Old World. We are the descendants of the Old World’s oppressed, persecuted, hungry and enslaved.

There is an indisputable connection between economic change and human migration. It explains why a resident population encourages or discourages immigration. Newcomers are only welcome when their labor, knowledge and skills, or financial resources are needed. They are resented when those needs diminish.

This isn’t anything new. In the middle of the 19th century, we encouraged Irish and Chinese laborers to come here. We needed them to build railroads. Our attitude toward them changed when the railroad construction ended. Then they looked for other jobs. Because they often accepted lower wages, they made life harder for American-born job seekers. That’s when statements like “No Irish need apply!” began appearing on help-wanted signs and in newspapers.

Native-born workers in other nations also resent cheap foreign labor. From 1955 to 1968, for example, West Germany recruited foreign workers for jobs Germans didn’t want. The Germans could get better jobs. When the economy slowed down, growing unemployment made the foreigners’ jobs more appealing to native Germans. Nevertheless, many foreigners kept their jobs, remained in Germany, and endured widespread resentment. They and their descendants have been living there for three or four generations. Some have become German citizens, and all of them now consider Germany their home.

Will our undocumented workers stay in the United States? They almost certainly will! Some Americans want to deport them, but that would be very difficult. Many of their children were born here. The 14th Amendment makes those kids U.S. citizens. We can’t deport them just because their parents are undocumented workers. If we did deport their parents, who would care for them until they became self-sufficient adults? They don’t merely consider the U.S. home. It actually is their home!

Mark Heinig Jr. of Kokomo is a retired Indiana principal and teacher. Contact him at markjr1708@gmail.com.