Maricopa Community College Board Members Confronted By Upset Students, Educators On Tuition Hike

The first person to stand up and address the board at yesterday evening's Maricopa Community College Board meeting wanted to inform them about the Model UN team's successes at Chandler-Gilbert Community College.

The next 25 were there to condemn the board's recent tuition hike for "out of state" students, a euphemism in this case for undocumented students.

Antonio Valdovinos, a student at Gateway Community College, kicked the barrage of criticism off, declaring he had come "to face the people who voted in secret to raise tuition" on undocumented students. It didn't get any more pleasant for the board as a wave of students and educators in the community college system, including financial aid counselors and professors, stood up to hammer them in the harshest terms.

At issue is a recent tuition increase by the Maricopa Community Colleges. In-state students, or legal residents of Arizona for at least one year, had their tuition hiked by five dollars for the coming school year at the most recent board meeting. The increase for out-of-state students, however, was almost 250%, from $96 per credit to $317.

Undocumented students are forced to pay out-of-state tuition, without the benefit of federal financial aid, by Arizona law, after voters approved Proposition 300 in 2006. Undocumented students have circumvented the measure by taking two classes or six credits per semester at Maricopa Community Colleges, since the cost of enrollment is lower for out of staters who take a part-time schedule than it is for those full-time.

The board's recent tuition hike, however, charges out-of-state students $300 per credit even if they are only part-time students. That prices community colleges out of the average undocumented students' price range, which board president Randolph Lumm warned was "targeting" undocumented students. This provoked a passionate outpouring of denunciations at last night's meeting.

Gateway Community College student Flor Moreno chastised the board after Valdovinos for sending the message to students that "you can't achieve," and promised to personally boycott the colleges.

Johnny Moreno stood up and asked, voice cracking, "Is this not the land of opportunity?"

Melissa Henry, an admissions counselor at Gateway Community College, compared Arizona to Nazi Germany, saying the Germans didn't start with murder but rather by limiting opportunity for the people they didn't care for. She added that the board's decision makes it difficult for normal out-of-state students, who have already committed to attending schools in the fall, to follow through on their education.

A southern belle named Kaitlin Cobb concurred later in the evening, saying she had come to Arizona from South Carolina to take classes at Paradise Valley Community College but could no longer afford to do so.

A few high school students spoke. One boy, Cody, said he'd registered to attend Gateway Community College but was going to withdraw because he can't understand how people can be so "hateful." A 17-year old Navajo student named Marli said she wants to be a counselor someday to help people, then added, "If you take someone's education away, you take away their freedom. If you take away their freedom, they have nothing left."

Three other high school students simply said they were excited about going to college but no longer planned on attending. One college sophomore rose to say he did not support the tuition hike.

Several students and activists threatened the board with the only words politicians ever understand: dollars and re-election. Danny Palomino pledged to help steer students away from Maricopa Community Colleges. "This will hurt your reputation and your pockets," he said of the tuition increase.

Dulce Matuz, a Phoenix-area real estate agent, echoed the sentiment.

Daniel Rodriguez, an ASU graduate who completed one year of law school but cannot finish due to the prohibitive cost of out-of-state tuition, stated his intention of leading a political campaign against the members who voted for the tuition hike during the next election.

Erika Andiola, another DREAM Activist, stood up to say that she didn't know what to tell her younger sister when she asks if she will be able to go to college in Arizona. Another student, Lorenzo Santillan, who achieved a level of fame several years ago as a member of the Carl Hayden Robotics Team that beat MIT students in a competition, said he brought his nephew to the meeting "so you can explain to him why he can't go to college, even though it says 'community college.' Imagine that."

Things got emotional as Laurita Moore, who identified herself as a professor at an "undisclosed" community college to avoid violating district rules, said she's been funding an undocumented student per semester. But with the hike, she can no longer sponsor a student.

"You don't pay me enough to do that anymore!" she roared, to laughter and applause.

The board members did not comment, per Arizona's open meetings law, which forbids them from addressing anything at a meeting that is not on the public agenda. Controversial board member Debra Pearson, whose hypocrisy we've spotlighted in our coverage of the controversy, seemed to be ignoring the first few speakers at the podium before paying attention to the last few.

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