Providing illegal immigrants more access to higher education in Maryland could generate an extra $5 million in revenue for the state per graduating college class, according to a new cost-benefit study by University of Maryland, Baltimore County researchers.
The conclusion is at odds with a nonpartisan state analysis, which found that the Dream Act would cost Maryland about $3.5 million a year when fully implemented.
"The state did not consider the benefits," said Marvin Mandell, a professor of public policy at UMBC who co-authored the study. "These people are going to earn more, and they are going to pay income taxes."
Unlike the state report, the UMBC analysis assumed a savings to government from the reduced incarceration rate expected of college graduates. The study also assumed that illegal immigrants with better education would have access to higher-paying jobs.
Maryland's General Assembly approved a law in 2011 to allow some illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition at colleges and universities. To qualify, students must have graduated from a Maryland high school and their families must have filed state income taxes.
Opponents gathered enough signatures to trigger a referendum; voters will decide whether to uphold the law at the ballot box on Nov. 6.
Dream Act opponents said Monday that they disagree with the study's conclusions — and the assumptions on which it was based. "Who exactly is going to hire an accountant, or a doctor or a lawyer, who does not have a green card?" said Del. Kathy Afzali, a Western Maryland Republican. "Who is going to hire a person who is illegal?"
"It is one thing to hire somebody under the table to be a maid or a gardener. Who is going to hire an accountant under the table?" Afzali asked.
Over the summer, UMBC President Freeman Hrabowski announced his support for the Dream Act. Mandell said the study was started before Hrabowski made his views public and that the president did not interfere with the work.
Mandell said researchers assumed that about 185 students who would have dropped out of high school would instead graduate each year because of the Dream Act. They assumed that a total of 435 a year would use the Dream Act to attend college.
Those figures are in line numbers that supporters of the Dream Act use when talking about the issue and with data from other states that have approved similar measures. Opponents argue that upholding the law would attract more illegal immigrants to the state and would cause enrollments to swell, thus costing the state money.
Mandell said Maryland's law would keep costs down by requiring that students attend at least two years of community college before transferring to a state university. "This is a pretty ingenuous feature of the Maryland Dream Act," he said.