Lower Tuition for "Dreamers" Won't Cost Taxpayers, Regents Chairman Says

A controversial proposal before the Arizona Board of Regents to offer a lower tuition rate to some undocumented immigrants would not be subsidized by taxpayers, board chair Mark Killian told New Times.

Under the plan, outlined in a the agenda for the board's next monthly meeting May 4, undocumented immigrant students, who are currently charged out-of-state tuition rates, would pay 150 percent of in-state tuition. To qualify, immigrants must have attended an Arizona high school for at least three years and be approved for postponed deportation status under President Barack Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

The 150 percent rate is roughly equivalent to universities' per-student expenses, Killian said.

"We were very careful," he said. "The people of Arizona voted not to subsidize these students and we're not about to violate that."

See also: -Arizona AG Sticking With Lawsuit Against In-State Tuition for DACA Recipients

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich is suing Maricopa County Community Colleges for offering in-state tuition to DACA recipients citing a voter-approved ballot measure that declares students without lawful immigration status ineligible for public benefits, including in-state tuition.

The community college argues that a deportation stay under DACA legalizes immigrant's presence in Arizona.

Killian doesn't agree with Maricopa's approach. But he also doesn't think it's appropriate to charge DACA students non-resident prices.

"Their parents brought them here and we invested in their K-12 education," he said. "Now, we have to figure out a way to get a return on our investment. The best way to do that is to give them a college education."

The board's proposal could open the door for thousands to attend college in Arizona, but immigrant rights activists say it doesn't go far enough.

Students aren't "looking for special treatment," said Dulce Metuz, an undocumented immigrant who graduated from Arizona State University in 2009. "They have a legal presence. They have a work permit. They are taxpayers and they have been living in the state of Arizona for a very long time."

What students want, she said, is "equality."

Korina Iribe, a 25-year-old undocumented immigrant who studies business and communications through Arizona State University's online program, called the move a "step in the right direction." But, for many undocumented immigrants, who don't have access to government financial aid, "150 percent is still a very unattainable amount," she said.

Under Arizona University's 2015-2016 tuition proposal, due for approval next month, the 150 percent rate translates into $15,717. By comparison, residents pay $10,478 and non-residents pay $25,458.

Iribe, a member of the Arizona Dream Act Coalition, a nonprofit that advocates for making education accessible for immigrant youth, was born in Nogales, Mexico, but her parents brought her to the United States when she was 5 years old. After graduating in the top 10 percent of her class at Tonopah Valley High School, she was offered college scholarships, but had to turn them down because she does not have a social security number. It took her six years to complete a two-year degree at a community college, where she paid non-resident rates, because she could only afford to pay for one or two classes at a time. Now, she attends ASU online, not because she wants to, but because the school charges a flat rate for distance courses, regardless of where students are from.

"I think the board is trying to do the right thing; however, I feel they have the power to grant students in-state tuition," said Iribe, a member of the Arizona Dream Act Coalition, a nonprofit that advocates for making education accessible for immigrant youth. "We will continue fighting for that 100 percent."

Killian said it is unlikely the board will consider offering in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants unless Arizona voters move to change the law.

"We're doing the best we can to help these students," he said, "and I think we're on firm legal ground."

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Elizabeth Stuart
Contact: Elizabeth Stuart