COMMUNITY VOICES | What the passage of the Minnesota Prosperity (Dream) Act means

Print

So now that it has become law and the University of Minnesota has adopted its provisions, what does the Minnesota Prosperity Act do, really?

It provides students who are already here, who have successfully completed high school, and who want to go on to higher education, with access to in-state tuition and financial aid like all other Minnesota high school students.

In so doing, we not only maximize the investment Minnesota has already made in their K-12 education, but also maximize their ability to contribute to the future economic success of the state.

Minnesota has one of the largest achievement gaps in the country between the academic performance of white students and students of color, a concerning statistic when one considers that students of color will be integral to bridge the workforce gap created by Minnesota’s rapidly aging population.

Similar policies enacted in other states have proven to increase non-citizen enrollment in high education and correlated with large decreases in high school dropouts among non-citizen students.

Who is directly affected and how?

Students who meet the criteria in the Prosperity Act will be eligible to apply for the following benefits:

  • In-state resident tuition rates at public colleges and universities regardless of immigration status.
  • State financial aid available to students who meet state residency requirements, regardless of immigration status.
  • Privately funded financial aid through public colleges and universities regardless of immigration status.

These benefits will be available to undocumented students who meet the following criteria:

  • Attended a Minnesota high school for at least 3 years; and
  • Graduated from a Minnesota high school or earned a GED in Minnesota; and
  • Complied with Selective Service registration requirements (applies only to male students born after 1960); and
  • Provide documentation to show they have applied for lawful immigration status but only if a federal process exists for a student to do so (does not include applying for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). There is currently not a federal process in place, so this documentation is not currently required.

In July 2013, the Minnesota Office of Higher Education will open an online application specifically for these students. Currently, undocumented students are not allowed to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This Minnesota application will delink federal funding from state funding so students can access state financial aid and in-state tuition.

Even with federal immigration reform looking more likely, state action to open educational access was necessary. Even if federal reform includes federal financial aid for these students (which is unlikely), states still need to pass legislation to allow some of their undocumented youth (including students who quality for Deferred Action) to pay resident tuition and/or access state-based financial aid.

The Prosperity Act benefits students going to Minnesota State Colleges and Universities schools, the University of Minnesota system, and Minnesota’s Private Colleges, as well as students from Minnesota who attend a school in Wisconsin, North Dakota or South Dakota, due to reciprocity agreements.

For more details, including information for DACA students and a video, visit the Minnesota Office of Higher Education MN Dream Act page.

What are the unintended benefits?

Passage of the Prosperity Act creates four unintended benefits. First, it makes Minnesota more welcoming and a better state for all. We are going to see huge demographic changes in the coming years. Minnesota cannot afford to project a hostile narrative if we want to stay competitive and welcoming to a diverse future workforce.

Second, the Prosperity Act will allow students to see beyond high school. When I was in high school, many friends and I didn’t think we could go to college because of our immigration status—many of us never finished, weren’t told we could, didn’t take advantage of existing opportunities (i.e. PSEO). Knowing that going to college will be easier to finance if they graduate from high school (thanks to this law) is a huge incentive for students – regardless of immigration status – to stay in school.

Third, the Prosperity Act streamlines information. For many years, we have struggled to make sure students were getting the right information from their counselors and other education professionals. At times, students were told they couldn’t go to college, and in some instances, high school counselors never realized undocumented students were in the school.

Moreover, the passage of the Prosperity Act means more students will benefit from federal immigration reform. Federal immigration reform, when it passes, may allow students who have resided in the US and gone to college/military to join a fast-track to legal status. Now that more Minnesota students will be able to attend college, there will be more students who will qualify.

What are the next steps?

We need to be creative in taking the next steps in leveraging the true potential of the Prosperity Act.

We need state-wide training for that provides tools to serve all of their students, regardless of immigration status. Comprehensive conversations about accessing higher education for students across the spectrum of immigration statuses must be facilitated at all levels because students get their information from various places and not just one.

Public Colleges and Universities must systematically open doors to private dollars for undocumented students. Staff in public colleges and universities must relook at their private dollar financial aid policies to accommodate this new pool of students. This is also a new opportunity for fundraising for this specific group of students.

High Schools and Public and Private colleges and universities in Minnesota must create safe environments and support systems within campuses for undocumented students. These students do not fall under one ethnic group or one category of type of student. Campuses must strategically create spaces for these students where they feel safe, welcome.

Public and Private colleges and universities campuses in Minnesota should have Undocumented Student Liaison/s (High Schools can have similar people). This will be the to-go person/people at each campus. Not everyone will be an expert at every campus, but there should be one or more people who have the knowledge it takes to work with undocumented students and their families.

Minnesota Private Colleges and Universities in Minnesota should adopt immigrant-friendly admissions and financial aid policies. For years, some of The Privates were ahead of public policy and public colleges and universities. The passage of the Prosperity Act has turned that around and The Publics now have systemic policies (or getting there). All private colleges should create a systemic way of accepting students and awarding financial aid.

Foundations should award private dollars to undocumented students. Some foundations do award scholarships to students, regardless of immigration status. However, many undocumented students still do not qualify for scholarships from most foundations, companies, etc. Those places should develop application processes that encompass all Minnesota students.

This is about creating an equal playing field. There are many roadblocks that can easily be removed and Minnesota should take leadership to ensure better education outcomes for all our students.

The Prosperity Act is only a piece of a bigger puzzle. We need to reevaluate where we are and continue to build a better future for all Minnesota students. To learn more about what Minnesota can do to meet our future workforce demands through increased participation from immigrant students, read the 2009 Citizens League report.

There will be a series of workshops for students, families, and staff to learn more about the MN Prosperity/Dream Act. Stay up-to-date here: www.navigatemn.org

Juventino Meza is a program assistant for the Citizens League and a member. He is also a volunteer with NAVIGATE MN and is part of the Selection Committee for the Latino Scholarship Fund of the Latino Economic Development Center.