With one exception: Montgomery College.
That is why Josue Aguiluz, 21, born in Honduras, and Ricardo Campos, 23, born in El Salvador — and numerous others like them — landed at the community college. There, they study and wait for a verdict from Maryland voters on a Nov. 6 ballot measure that may determine whether they can afford to advance to a four-year college.
“I know people in Maryland believe in education,” Campos said the other day at the student center on the Rockville campus. “I know they are going to vote for Question 4. I’m hanging on their vote.”
Question 4 asks voters to affirm or strike down a law that the legislature passed last year, known as Maryland’s version of the “Dream Act,” which granted certain undocumented immigrants the ability to obtain in-state tuition at public colleges and universities. The subsidy comes with conditions. Among them: To take advantage, students must first go to a two-year community college.
The law was pushed to a referendum after opponents mounted a lightning petition drive that showed the depth of division over illegal immigration across the state and the nation. Critics say discounting tuition for students who lack permission to be in the country is an unjustified giveaway of what they believe will amount to tens of millions of tax dollars a year.
“When an undocumented student enters the system, it is a net loss of revenue,” said Del. Patrick L. McDonough (R-Baltimore County). “It is a simple mathematical argument. Put your emotion and your passion aside, and get out your calculator.”
There is no count of the number of students statewide who would be eligible for benefits under the law. Estimates range from several hundred to a few thousand.
A Washington Post poll this month found that a solid majority of likely voters favored the law: 59 percent support it, and 35 percent are opposed. If the law is affirmed, Maryland would join about a dozen other states with laws or policies providing in-state tuition benefits to undocumented immigrants. Texas became the first in 2001.
Experts say Maryland’s version is the only one that requires students to go through community college first. That means the state’s 16 community colleges could become a pipeline for undocumented students in public higher education if the measure is approved.
Montgomery College is already a magnet for such students. It offers the same low tuition to any student who graduated within the past three years from a Montgomery County high school. Immigration status, for those recent graduates, is not a factor. Full-time tuition at the in-county rate is $2,688 a year. For students from out of state, tuition is $7,536.