GOP-sponsored bill would give Dreamers a tuition break

A Republican state senator has introduced a bill that would give those who graduate from an Arizona high school the ability to pay a lower tuition rate than out-of-state students.

Introduced by Sen. Heather Carter (LD15), Senate Bill 1217 would allow Arizona public universities and community colleges to create new tuition rates for any student who graduates from an Arizona high school.

This means any Arizona high school graduate who decides to apply to a university or community college within four years of finishing school is entitled to an amount prescribed by the Arizona Board of Regents or Community College District Governing Board, including undocumented immigrants who are covered under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

Rich Nickel, president and CEO of College Success Arizona, said his organization supports the bill because it aligns with its mission to increase college access and attainment for all Arizonans.

“Currently, Dreamers are not eligible for in-state tuition,” Nickel said. “This bill would expand eligibility for new tuition rates to include all students who graduate from an Arizona high school, regardless of their immigration or previous residency status. All of Arizona benefits when we are able to increase our state’s college attainment rate.”

The bill introduction comes less than a year after the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that Maricopa Community Colleges could not legally grant DACA recipients in-state tuition, which resulted in a drop in student enrollment at the colleges.

According to Nickel, soon 70 percent of all jobs in Arizona will require some form of education beyond a high school degree.

Not continuing to invest in students who completed their primary education in the state could create an economic issue said former Superintendent of Public Instruction Jaime Molera.

“Bottomline, it’s an economic development issue,” Molera said. “If they’re not able to continue to get the higher level of education that they need in order to be contributors, they’re going to be users of our state systems. That to me is not smart policy.”

According to a recent report by the CATO Institute, DACA recipients contribute significantly to the U.S. economy. The report estimates that policies reversing DACA would cost the U.S. economy $351 billion from 2019 to 2028 in lost income, and that the U.S. Treasury would lose $92.9 billion in revenue, including payroll taxes.

“Job creators are looking for ways for Arizona high school graduates to continue to obtain the necessary skills and post-secondary education to be successful in the job market and pursue good paying career track jobs,” Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry President and CEO Glenn Hamer said. “This economy needs people with skills. Kudos to Senator Carter for addressing this challenge.”

The bill passed its first major obstacle Feb. 4, passing the Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development committee unanimously.

“Our businesses desperately need it and want it,” Molera said. “This could be one of those pieces of legislation that I think the entire legislature will feel good about.”

According to Nickel, if passed S.B.1217 would send “an important and inclusive message to all high school graduates in our state that we are invested in them and that we want them to be able to afford and attend Arizona’s excellent higher education institutions,” while also encouraging graduates who left the state to return, complete their education, and join the state’s workforce.

The bill is on the Senate Rules committee Feb. 11 agenda.

To read the bill, click here.

Emily Richardson

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