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Jealous wants free community college for Maryland’s ‘dreamers’

Ben Jealous speaks after claiming victory in the the Maryland Democratic gubernatorial primary election on June 26 in Baltimore. He has made college affordability a cornerstone of his campaign. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

Maryland Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ben Jealous wants the state to cover the cost of community college tuition for ‘dreamers’ — undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children.

If elected, Jealous said he plans to allocate $3 million to pay for an estimated 700 undocumented immigrants to attend community college free. He would expand on a 2012 initiative that allowed ‘dreamers’ to receive in-state tuition at Maryland’s public colleges and universities.

“Children who came to this country, have made this place their home, and have worked hard and graduated from a Maryland high school should be given every opportunity to succeed,” Jealous said in a statement. “This isn’t just a moral issue, it’s an economic issue.”

Jealous has made college affordability a cornerstone of his campaign. For the past year, he has touted his plan to allow Maryland high school graduates to attend community college ­tuition-free and create a work-study program that would pay students at the four-year public colleges the equivalent of their tuition so they can graduate debt-free.

Jealous, who is in an uphill battle against Gov. Larry Hogan (R), plans to announce his latest plan for free community college at a news conference on Wednesday. The former NAACP president is expected to be joined by immigration advocates who worked with him in 2012 to get voters to approve the Dream Act.

Del. Joseline A. Peña-Melnyk (D-Prince George’s) said many undocumented immigrants can’t afford community college tuition, which costs approximately $4,000 a year. According to legislative analysts, about 500 undocumented immigrants in the fall of 2016, the most recent data available, received in-state tuition under the Dream Act.

“Expanding it and making it free will be wonderful for that population that we know struggles and wants to get the American Dream,” Peña-Melnyk said. “It will be amazing.”

The General Assembly has taken numerous steps this year to make community college more accessible. It passed legislation creating the College Promise program, which covers the cost of community college tuition for Marylanders who meet certain income and eligibility requirements. It also approved a bill to give undocumented immigrants access to a state scholarship to help pay for tuition. Jealous’ latest plan goes farther by guaranteeing free tuition for dreamers.

In the final minutes of the 2018 legislative session, the General Assembly approved a measure that provides scholarships of up to $5,000 to students whose families earn less than $150,000 a year and adults earning less than $100,000. Undocumented immigrants are not eligible for the College Promise program.

The legislature also approved another measure that specifically allows dreamers to apply for the Delegate Howard P. Rawlings Educational Excellence Awards program, a needs-based scholarship. But the legislation did not include or mandate funding.

Hogan announced last month that, if reelected, he would push to expand the College Promise program to help some students who meet income and eligibility requirements to attend public four-year colleges free. It was unclear how Hogan planned to pay for the expansion of the College Promise program. At the time, he said the program, which would cost an estimated $175 million over five years, would not require a tax increase and because of Maryland’s improving economy he would not have to cut another program to pay for it.

Scott Sloofman, a spokesman for Hogan, said in an email that Jealous continues to pile on “free stuff faster than Jos. A. Banks at a Labor Day suit sale.” He would not comment on whether Hogan would support certain undocumented immigrants receiving free tuition at community colleges. The governor “is taking responsible and affordable steps to expand higher education opportunities through community college scholarships for those who need it most and his proposal to make college loan interest 100 percent tax deductible,” he wrote.

Jealous has said he plans to raise taxes by 1 percent on the top 1 percent of earners — residents citing an annual income of $500,000 or more on their income taxes — and reduce the prison population by 30 percent to pay for his higher education proposals.