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Tennessee Policy

Updated As Of: April 11, 2017

The state of Tennessee has not passed a law concerning undocumented students access to higher education or in-state tuition eligibility. Public colleges and universities therefore vary in their policies regarding acceptance of undocumented students. 
    • Institutions under the Tennessee Board of Regents consider undocumented students as out-of-state students.
    • Institutions within the University of Tennessee system “do not knowingly accept” undocumented students.
  • HB 1929/SB 2115, passed in May 2014, ensures that US citizens who meet residency requirements will receive in-state tuition regardless of their parents’ legal status.
  • SB 1951/HB 1992, introduced in January 2014, would have provided in-state tuition to undocumented students but was withdrawn due to a lack of support.
  • HB 2328/SB 2067 would create a pilot program to extend in-state tuition eligibility to undocumented students starting at higher education institutions in Shelby County.
  • SB 612/HB 675, introduced in February 2015, would extend in-state tuition eligibility to undocumented students.
  • HB 2552 was introduced in January 2016. If passed, it would have forfeited state funding for public instituitons of higher eduation that classify undocumented students as Tennessee residents for in-state tuiton.
  • HB 0660 was introduces in Februrary 2017. The bill would let the insitutions determine the qualifications a student must have in order to receive in state tuition.
  • HJR 1253 was enacted in June 2010, voicing support for Arizona's anti-immigration SB 1070.
  • HB 1378 was enacted in June 2011, requiring employers to enroll and maintain active participation in E-Verify.
  • HB 164/SB 170 was enacted in May 2013, prohibiting the acquisition of goods or services from any person who knowingly employs the services of undocumented immigrants.
  • On August 21, 2012, the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office (serving Nashville and environs) ended its 287 (g) partnership with ICE.
  • Public Chapter 436 (HB 1378/SB 1669) requires Tennessee employers with 5 or more employees must either use E-Verify to confirm the work eligibility of new employees, or maintain a copy of a specified identity document as of July 1, 2013. The bill provides a safe harbor for employers who use E-Verify if the worker is later found to be in the country illegally. 
  • HB 271/SB 155, introduced in 2017, would prohibit state and local governments from adopting sanctuary policies. 
Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition: Community Resource List/Listo de recursos para la Comunidad


Federal law has been unsuccessful at addressing comprehensive access to postsecondary education for undocumented students. Despite efforts to pass the DREAM Act and comprehensive immigration reform, Congress has not addressed the current ambiguous language in IIRIRA regarding undocumented students' eligibility for educational benefits (i.e. in-state tuition and state-funded financial aid programs). Therefore, much of the policy activity regarding postsecondary access for undocumented students has shifted to state and system levels. As a result, state policymakers and higher education institutions take varied approaches to either broadening or restricting access to postsecondary education and educational benefits. Others states have yet to take formal action on this issue, leaving the decision to individual campus leaders.

Under the provisions of this ambiguous policy context, undocumented youth encounter contentious environments with policies that range from inclusive, restrictive, or unstipulated stances.

Inclusive: States with policies that explicitly grant in-state tuition and/or eligibility for public financial aid for undocumented students.

Restrictive: States with policies that explicitly deny eligibility for admission and/or in-state tuition for undocumented students.

Unstipulated: States that do not have stated policies that explicitly address undocumented student access to postsecondary education.

State and system policies are volatile and continuously changing. For the latest, please visit the uLEAD NewsdeskFor information specific to individual state context, click in the subheadings below.