Marylanders overwhelmingly approved a measure this week to allow some undocumented students in-state tuition rates, including at the College of Southern Maryland.
More than 58 percent of voters approved ballot Question 4, known as the Maryland Dream Act, according to the state board of elections website.
In St. Mary’s and Calvert counties, however, voters rejected the measure; about 53 percent of votes were against the referred law in each county. Charles County voters did overwhelmingly approve the law, with nearly 60 percent voting in favor.
“I really don’t think it’s going to have much of an impact” at local campuses, Brad Gottfried, president of the College of Southern Maryland, said.
He expected there may be a handful of students who are able to take advantage of the Maryland Dream Act. The law was passed by the legislature in 2011 and allows students who are not citizens who graduate from Maryland public high schools and whose families have filed income tax returns in Maryland for three years to go to community colleges and state universities at in-state tuition rates.
Advocates who have been working for the law’s passage both in the state legislature and during last week’s election said an overwhelming swing in favor of the Dream Act at the state level can be attributed to a large volunteer effort that put undocumented students at the fore, talking with those who were unsure about supporting the measure.
“This is a tremendous victory for all of Maryland,” said Gov. Martin O'Malley (D), who has championed the law. “New Americans move us forward, not back.”
An analysis by the University of Maryland, Baltimore County estimated that about 435 students would take advantage of the Dream Act each year, and that education for those students would in the end benefit state and local governments by $6.2 million each year due to higher wages and less money spent on social programs.
Opponents argued that the Dream Act would cost the state millions, and that spaces in community colleges would be taken from legal Maryland residents to accommodate the undocumented students.
Last fall CSM had 9,166 students, an increase of 3 percent from the year before.
Gottfried said the Dream Act will not take spots away from other students at the campuses, since only a small number would likely enroll under the new law.
However, he did say that the legislature continues to add groups of students who are eligible for waivers from college tuition. As that list grows, the financial impact can be real, he said.
“The list is long and growing,” Gottfried said, including groups such as the National Guard, people who are collecting Social Security disability payments and foster children.
“All of them are worthy,” Gottfried said. “Every time we can educate a person who can become gainfully employed, I think that’s a good thing.”
Students living in Southern Maryland currently pay about $136 per credit, including fees. Tuition and fees cost less than $4,000 a year at CSM, much less than at most four-year colleges. Students who do not qualify as Maryland residents pay about $300 per credit, including fees, at CSM.
Tuition for in-state students at the University of Maryland, College Park costs about $9,000 each year, while students who do not qualify as state residents pay more than $27,000.
“This will help my family a lot,” said Dulce Garcia, 19, an undocumented student at Anne Arundel Community College who has been working on the Dream Act campaign for about two years. “I’m not the only person in my family going to college. My brother goes, too, and we can only take two classes” because of the cost of paying out-of-state tuition.
Educating Maryland Kids spent $1 million on advertising and mobilized unions, churches and student groups in get-out-the-vote efforts. The group’s online and TV advertisements were a series of videos featuring Maryland politicians, religious leaders and teachers making the argument for the Dream Act, with the tagline: “It’s right, and it’s fair.”
At first, Garcia said, most of the people she talked to about the Dream Act were against it. “But a lot of them didn’t really know what it was, until you explain it to them,” Garcia said.
Kristin Ford, spokeswoman for Educating Maryland Kids, said that face-to-face conversations with voters were a large part of the strategy that led to the win.