Immigrant tuition bill advances
DENVER — The children of illegal immigrants would be able to get in-state tuition at any college or university in Colorado under a bill that won approval in a Senate committee Thursday.
The controversial measure is designed to offer students who were brought to the state at a young age access to affordable higher education. Under current law, students who can’t show in-state status are required to pay out-of-state rates.
While those students still have to come up with the same tuition required of legal residents of the state, the measure also provides state-funded tuition assistance that normally only goes to in-state students.
As a result, the undocumented students won’t have to pay out-of-state rates that can be three to four times higher.
“I have long said that ASSET is the right thing to do (and) now more than ever it’s the smart thing to do because it means increased revenue for our state,” said Sen. Angela Giron, D-Pueblo, one of several lawmakers who introduced the measure. “Our state cannot afford to allow another generation of young immigrants to struggle for the chance to contribute to American society. These aspiring citizens have worked hard, they’ve earned good grades and colleges have accepted them. We have already invested in their education.”
The measure, SB33, is known as the ASSET bill, which stands for Advancing Students for a Stronger Economy Tomorrow.
Giron said the state is second in the nation in the number of residents with higher education degrees, but 32nd on the list of states that sends its high school graduates to college.
“Failing to educate our students has had implications not just for education, but also for our economy,” she said. “The more education they achieve, the more money they will earn and the more they will contribute to their communities.”
Other witnesses said a more educated workforce leads to higher pay for those people, which results in increased tax revenues to state and local governments and a decrease in the number of people seeking government assistance or getting into legal trouble.
Committee members who opposed the measure, however, said they couldn’t support it because of anger over the federal government’s failure to address illegal immigration as a whole, adding that the undocumented students still will be illegal once they graduate and won’t get the jobs they seek.
“There are other steps in my opinion that need to come first to respect our rule of law, and this one is not that first step,” said Sen. Scott Renfroe, R-Greeley.
“It’s unfortunate that your citizenship will not come with graduation,” Sen. Vicki Marble, R-Fort Collins, told one undocumented student who testified in favor of the bill. “I don’t think I could take money from someone and not be able to guarantee you the life you are looking for. I want the federal government to address the real issue, and that is the real American dream, citizenship and all rights that go with it.”
The bill passed 6-3, with one Republican, freshman Sen. Owen Hill of Colorado Springs, joining Democrats in favor of it.
To qualify for the lower tuition rate, the students must:
■ Attend a Colorado public or private high school for at least three years.
■ Graduate from a Colorado high school or obtain a general equivalency diploma in the state.
■ Have been admitted to an institution of higher education in the state.
■ Submit an affidavit stating they are seeking legal residency status in the nation.
Like a bill to create civil unions for same-sex couples, the ASSET measure is expected to pass the Democratic-controlled Legislature easily and be signed into law.
Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia told the committee that he and Gov. John Hickenlooper support the idea. Both men are Democrats.
“Even states that have traditionally been seen as conservative politically, such as Texas, Kansas, Nebraska, Utah ... have chosen to offer in-state tuition rates to graduates of their states’ high schools, even those students who are not documented citizens,” Garcia said. “They did it for the same reason that Colorado should, because it made their states stronger and it will make our state stronger.”
To date, 14 other states have approved similar measures.
Garcia, former president of Colorado State University-Pueblo, said oftentimes colleges and universities have seats in their classrooms that go unfilled. This measure would allow motivated students to attend school and give those institutions income they wouldn’t otherwise receive, he said.
Numerous college and university presidents echoed those comments, including Colorado Mesa University President Tim Foster.
Foster, a former Republican legislator, told the committee he’s often been frustrated seeing talented high school students unable to continue their educations because they couldn’t afford to pay the higher tuition rates.
“There’s a cadre of very bright, talented young men and young women who would really benefit from lowering the cost of going to college and allow us to continue to progress as one of the most educated states in the union,” Foster said.
A fiscal analysis of the bill predicts that up to 500 additional students would attend college if it becomes law, increasing revenue to those schools by about $5 million over the next two years.