Gov. Deval Patrick has instructed state colleges and universities to allow some illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition rates to attend.
In a letter sent Monday to the Board of Higher Education, Patrick said immigrants who obtain a work permit through a new federal program instituted by President Obama would be eligible to pay the lower rates.
Those rates cut in half the annual tuition to attend the University of Massachusetts Amherst, for instance.
The governor told reporters the directive is in line with an existing state policy that allows people with work permits and valid Massachusetts residency to qualify for in-state tuition.
"It's about a change in policy at the federal level and about a consistent application of our policy here in Massachusetts," Patrick said.
State House Minority Leader Bradley Jones, a Republican and opponent of in-state tuition for illegal immigrants, criticized Patrick for implementing the program without legislative approval. Jones also said the state should consider first offering more affordable tuition to other groups, such as veterans.
Another critic of Patrick's policy, Steve Kropper, with Massachusetts Citizens for Immigration Reform, said: "Issuing an executive order that most residents of the commonwealth don't agree with is bad politics and bad public policy."
But one fiscal watchdog group claims the policy could help state schools financially. Michael Widmer, with the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, estimates that lower tuition rates could generate as much as $4 million for the schools.
"It would create several million [in] additional revenues for the public higher ed system in Massachusetts because most of the individuals are not attending now and not paying in-state tuition rates," Widmer said.
With reporting by The Associated Press and the WBUR Newsroom
This program aired on November 19, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.