Tennessee State Senator Todd Gardenhire, Republican-Chattanooga, has introduced a pair of bills in the Tennessee state senate that could radically expand Tennessee students’ access to higher education. The first bill, which was approved by the Senate Finance Committee by a vote of 10-1 on March 11th, applies to U.S. citizens who are children of undocumented immigrants. Under the bill, these children would be entitled to in-state tuition at Tennessee’s public colleges and universities provided they have resided in Tennessee for at least one year and have graduated from a Tennessee high school with at least a B grade average. Historically, these children have had to pay out-of-state tuition rates because their parents are not considered state residents. Given that out-of-state tuition costs nearly triple in-state tuition, this has imposed a major burden on these U.S. citizen students.
The second bill Gardenhire proposed has met with more resistance. Under that bill, undocumented students who have resided in Tennessee for at least one year and have graduated from a Tennessee high school with at least a B grade average would also be eligible for in-state tuition rates. This bill has yet to come up for a vote in the Senate Finance Committee, but it has won the official endorsement of the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce. The bill has also won tepid support from Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam, who said the bill has “some merit.” The bill should be heard by the Senate Finance Committee in the coming days and, if it passes the committee stage, will be introduced on the floor of the Tennessee state senate a few weeks later.