About 100 illegal immigrants took advantage of a law allowing them to pay in-state tuition at University of Wisconsin System schools in the 2010-11 academic year, according to a State Journal analysis, under a short-lived program that will likely expire July 1.
Republican Gov. Scott Walker is expected to sign a two-year budget that will ban resident tuition for illegal immigrants, ending a program that former Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat, signed into law just two years ago.
The State Journal obtained data from the 13 four-year campuses in the UW System and found that about 70 illegal immigrants filed paperwork for resident tuition in 2009-10, while about 100 did so in 2010-2011. Some of those students counted in the second year may be the same as the first year.
UW-Milwaukee made up the bulk of the program, with 33 students qualifying for resident tuition in 2009-10 and 55 students in 2010-11. UW-Whitewater had 7 such students last year and 19 this year. UW-Madison had between 10 and 20 students over the course of two years. Most other campuses in the UW System had no students apply for the program, or only a handful.
The gap between resident and non-resident tuition is large. At UW-Madison, it's the difference between paying roughly $8,987 and $24,237 per year. The state pays about 40 percent of the cost of resident undergraduate education, while the student pays the other 60 percent, according to UW System data.
In a statement, Gov. Scott Walker's spokesman said: "Individuals who do not reside in our state legally should not be getting taxpayer subsidized tuition."
But immigrant rights group Voces de la Frontera said so few students enrolled in the program that the cost to the state is virtually insignificant. Furthermore, a spokesman for the group said undocumented students and their families pay taxes and invest in the state's public education system.
Illegal immigrants are not eligible for state or federal financial aid.
UW System chancellors have some discretion over how they dole out scholarships and certain grants, but it's unlikely to bring tuition down to resident levels for illegal immigrants, said David Giroux, UW System spokesman.
Giroux said financial aid "will not be earmarked for undocumented students in any way."
As of May, Wisconsin was one of 12 states that allowed illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition, according to the National Immigration Law Center.
To qualify for the program, a student had to prove he or she graduated from a Wisconsin high school, had lived here for three years and sign an affidavit that he or she will seek permanent residency as soon as possible.
Christian Pacheco, 18, graduated this spring from St. Catherine's High School in Racine. He said he hoped to enroll at UW-Parkside in Kenosha, but not he's not sure he'll be able to afford tuition at the out-of-state price. His family moved to the U.S. from Mexico when he was 5 years old. Pacheco said he may try to take classes at Gateway Technical College while he works.
"I've stayed out of trouble and gotten the best grades I can," he said. "I don't want to fall behind and then not do anything with my life."