So now that it has become law, what does the Minnesota Prosperity Act do, really?
It provides undocumented students who are already here, who have successfully completed high school, and who want to go on to higher education, with access to the same in-state tuition and financial aid that all other Minnesota high-school students have.
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 bridging the work-force gap created by Minnesota’s rapidly aging population.
Similar policies enacted in other states have proven to increase non-citizen enrollment in higher education and are correlated with large decreases in the number of 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, regardless of immigration status:
- In-state resident tuition rates at public colleges and universities.
- State financial aid available to students who meet state residency requirements.
- Privately funded financial aid through public colleges and universities.
These benefits will be available to undocumented students who:
- 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.
The Minnesota Office of Higher Education will develop an application specifically for these students. Currently, undocumented students are not able 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.
A necessary move even if Congress acts
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.
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 work force.
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. Knowing that going to college will be easier to finance if they graduate from high school 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 U.S. 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.
Ways to leverage the act’s potential
We need to be creative in taking the next steps in leveraging the true potential of the Prosperity Act.
We need statewide training for school staff and community members 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.
Minnesota Private Colleges and Universities in Minnesota should adopt immigrant-friendly admissions and financial aid policies. All colleges should create a systemic way of treating students based on their acceptance criteria and not immigration status.
Foundations should award private dollars to undocumented students. Some foundations do award scholarships to students regardless of immigration status. However, many undocumented students do not qualify for scholarships from foundations, companies, etc. Those places should develop application processes that encompass all Minnesota students.
State should lead in removing roadblocks
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 re-evaluate 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 work-force demands through increased participation from immigrant students, read the 2009 Citizens League report. You can also attend the MN Dream Act Forum July 10 at Hennepin Technical College’s Eden Prairie campus.
For more details on the Minnesota Prosperity Act, including information for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) students, visit the Minnesota Office of Higher Education MN Dream Act page.
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.
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