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Maricopa Community Colleges Governing Board: Doing Legislature's Bidding is Our Job. Won't Reconsider Tuition Increase

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We reached out to the Maricopa Community Colleges Governing Board after last week's board meeting to ask if they plan on reconsidering their tuition hike targeting undocumented students.

 

We also asked board members to address the criticisms levied against the board last Tuesday night that they were misinterpreting state law, acting without fully exploring the consequences on students and programs at the community colleges, and carrying water for right-wingers in the Legislature.

Maricopa Community Colleges' spokesman Tom Gariepy got back to us with a statement acknowledging that the district is going to lose money because of the increase, arguing that it is the board's "obligation" to do "the Legislature's bidding," and declaring that the tuition increase will not be reversed. Read the full statement after the jump.

1. The Board can always request more monitoring information or ask that the Chancellor re-examine the issue if presented with information it has not considered. Board President Lumm raised concerns beginning with the first reading of the recommendation. He and other board members requested additional information which was provided. However, the board has not requested that the Chancellor re-examine the issue. The citizens who spoke at the meeting did not raise any issues and questions the district staff failed to consider and address. The Board does not have the option to reduce the rate, because doing so would violate state law.

2. The administration recommended the tuition change to the Board because the staff believes this action is required by a new state law, Section 1-502 Arizona Revised Statutes. This law goes beyond Proposition 300, which prohibits grants of instate tuition and financial aid to undocumented students. It prohibits the district from conferring any "state or local public benefits" as well. "Benefit" is a synonym for "subsidy." http://thesaurus.com/browse/subsidy. Postsecondary education benefits are specifically covered (section 1-502 I, ARS). Using an existing standard formula, the District found that neither the existing out of state rate nor the part time rate covered the costs of an individual student's education (computed at $317 per credit hour). The rates were publicly subsidized, and therefore were prohibited as "benefits." They were functionally indistinguishable from instate tuition. Maricopa's new uniform out of state rate is not out of line with the rates of the other community college districts that have adopted uniform rates (Coconino, Mojave, and Graham Counties).

3. The people protesting the tuition increase expressed their feelings during the board meeting, as is their right. We respect those feelings, which arise naturally from their compassion for undocumented students. However, Board members are sworn to uphold the law as a condition of their office. They are not free to ignore or flout laws with which some members may disagree, as some speakers have suggested. One speaker suggested the District interpreted the statute too broadly: another insisted the interpretation was too narrow. However, no speaker claimed that the legislature did not intend to prohibit publicly subsidized education for undocumented students, or that the old part time rate was not subsidized. Instead, speakers complained that the District was doing the legislature's bidding. That is our obligation.

The place to effect the change the speakers want is the state legislature, which enacted Section 1-502, ARS, not the District, which is compelled to follow it. There is one other point to clarify. A number of speakers seemed to believe that the District had made this change to try to raise more revenue. The truth is that revenue had nothing to do with this decision, because we recognize that this change will result in a loss of some tuition dollars. Rather, the decision based entirely on the legislature's prohibition of postsecondary education benefits for undocumented students.

Starting in the fall, undocumented students in Maricopa County who cannot prove legal residency will have to pay $317 per class credit, effectively pricing community college out of their future.

Activists and educators have waged a spirited campaign to change the minds of the governing board, who seem to be digging in their heels. It'll be interesting to see where the students go from here.

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