Last week marked a major victory for undocumented students and those in favor of offering them reduced tuition to Arizona colleges and universities.
Last Thursday, the Arizona Board of Regents unanimously voted 8-0 to extend a reduced tuition rate for undocumented high-school graduates. Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman, arriving late, abstained from the vote.
The extended tuition rate, which was originally established for undocumented students under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, will be about $16,000 at Arizona’s three public universities. This is 150 percent of in-state tuition but significantly lower than out-of-state tuition, which has climbed to roughly $30,000 over the years. Before the vote, undocumented students were paying the steep out-of-state tuition rate at the University of Arizona, Arizona State University, and Northern Arizona University.
“I was very excited when I first heard the decision. Last year, [Aliento] had advocated at the State Capitol to make sure more students had access to higher-ed,” said Reyna Montoya, founder and CEO of Aliento, an advocacy organization for undocumented immigrants. “At Aliento, we work with a lot of undocumented students who were unable to qualify for DACA due to the Trump administration’s decision to restrict it, so I knew that this would definitely be a big opportunity, and I think it’s good for many of them.”
According to a report by the Migration Policy Institute, roughly two thousand undocumented immigrants graduate from Arizona high schools annually – the tenth most in the nation. Although not all graduates will attend a state university, the reduced rate provides them with flexibility when determining the next step in their educational futures.
Since last year, thousands of undocumented students were stripped of this opportunity after the Arizona Supreme Court ruled against Maricopa Community Colleges, who offered in-state tuition rates for them. The Supreme Court decided that because they were not “lawfully present” in the state, they did not qualify for in-state tuition.
Moreover, Proposition 300 — a ballot measure approved by Arizona voters in 2006 — asserted that people without lawful immigration status (that is, those that are undocumented) cannot receive tuition waivers, grants, or scholarships that is subsidized by state dollars. But because the 150 percent rate covers undocument students’ tuition fees without state subsidization, the ABOR vote does not violate the proposition.
“I think that there’s a lack of awareness about how this would impact not only students, but how it would impact the bottom line of the universities,” Montoya said. “And I think that now that people were able to see they would be seeing a lot of people that want to go to school but had an added barrier to go, I think it just needed more attention; I think there was a big assumption that a lot of the students qualified under DACA. I think that through a lot of education awareness and people really understanding the real impact it had on students, I think – this is my assumption – that it made it more important for us to act on it.”
Montoya points out that it is crucial immigrants receive an education so that they can contribute to the workforce. With unemployment levels at historic lows, employers are struggling to find the best talent; but as more undocumented students attend school, the more employment gaps they will be able to fill.
“There’s this big effort on both sides of the aisle – it’s completely bipartisan – to ensure that we have a well-educated workforce, and at the end of the day, Arizona – by not educating the people that are ready to go into higher-ed, who are willing to stay in the state – we’re technically shooting ourselves in the foot, and that’s the bigger picture here,” Montoya concludes.