The Maryland Dream Act is likely to benefit state and local governments to the tune of $6.2 million per year, according to a new study of the law’s potential economic impact.
Voters will decide in November whether to uphold the law, which allows some undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition at public colleges and universities. The measure cleared the General Assembly in 2011, but was petitioned to the ballot by opponents.
The report, published this week by the Maryland Institute for Policy Analysis & Research at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, projects that the increased income, sales and property tax revenue that would accompany a more educated work force would outweigh the costs of the new law.
Drawing on studies of similar laws in other states, population estimates of undocumented immigrants in Maryland and their current enrollment rates, the study estimates that about 435 students per year would take advantage of the act, and 163 of those would be students who wouldn’t otherwise seek more college education.
The report estimates that Dream Act students will make up about 0.6 percent of the total number of students at the state’s public higher-education facilities.
The fiscal costs of the program — measured as per-student funding that subsidizes high school and higher education — will be about $3.6 million for county governments, $3.6 million for the state and $200,000 for the federal government, according to the report.
But such costs will be more than offset by increased tax dollars as well as a drop in spending on incarceration and other social programs that is expected to accompany a more educated population.
The state and county governments stand to share an estimated $6.2 million, while the federal government would get about $18.4 million, according to the report.
Much of the opposition to the law has been based on speculation and uncertainty about the costs that the report puts to rest, said Kristin Ford, spokeswoman for the Educating Maryland Kids campaign, which supports the legislation. “The report was conclusive that this will have nothing but positive economic benefits,” she said
But the UMBC report drew fire from critics of the Dream Act, such as Del. Patrick L. McDonough (R-Dist. 7) of Middle River.
“The loss of out-of-state tuition revenue caused by the Dream Act will dramatically impact community college operating revenues,” McDonough said in a statement Tuesday. “This reduction, without question, will reduce the number of slots available and displace students’ access.”
The report argues otherwise, suggesting that the law’s requirement that students attend two years of community college — which has open enrollment — before transferring to a four-year institution and university guidelines requiring the acceptance of all eligible community college transfers will prevent displacement.
McDonough also argues that illegal immigrants won’t be able to legally work in the country, even with a college degree, and so cannot be counted on to provide more tax revenue.
The law requires that students affirm that they will seek legal, permanent residency as soon as they can in order to qualify for the lower tuition rates.
Brad Botwin, director of Help Save Maryland, a group opposing the law, also believes it’s unlikely that many Dream Act students will ever legally join the work force.
Even President Barack Obama’s recent executive order deferring deportation for many who came to the country illegally as children and allowing them to apply for work permits wouldn’t prompt a major addition to the legal work force, he said.
It was unlikely that many employers would “roll the dice” by hiring graduates whose ability to stay in the country was uncertain, Botwin said.