Undocumented tuition bill moves ahead
The Senate Education Committee Thursday passed Senate Bill 11-126, the measure that would extend resident tuition eligibility to undocumented students who meet certain conditions.
The 5-2 vote came after nearly three hours of testimony and discussion. (See bottom of the story for the roll call.)
“It has always been the right thing to do, but now it is the economically smart thing to do,” said fresman Sen. Angela Giron, D-Pueblo, one of the bill’s prime sponsors.
Supporters of this year’s bill are making the pitch that it would be good for the economy because it would increase the state’s educated workforce and bring extra revenue to state colleges and universities.
The bill is “both the right thing to do and the wise thing,” said Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, the other Senate prime sponsor.
Witnesses supporting the bill included businessman Alex Cranberg, Metro State President Steve Jordan and Jim Polsfut, chair of the Colorado Commission on Higher Education,
Cranberg, a noted voucher proponent and supporter of helping at-risk students, said, “I don’t think any of us in this room should stand in the way of these young people.”
Also testifying in support were representatives of the Bell Policy Center, the Associated Students of Colorado State University, the Associated Students of Colorado, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Colorado Education Association, the League of Woman Voters,
Only one student testified in support. Aminta Menjivar of Denver is now in college and recently received residency documents.
Johnston, who organized much of the testimony, said other, undocumented students were discouraged from testifying because of concerns that bill opponents would copy names from the witness signup sheet and turn them in to authorities. There were well over a dozen witnesses in favor.
There were four opposition witnesses. One, Stan Weekes of the Colorado Alliance for Immigration Reform, startled the packed hearing room when he opened by saying,”We need to have the sergeants at arms clear the room of everyone but the public” – meaning anyone who wasn’t a citizen.
Committe chair Sen. Bob Bacon, D-Fort Collins, kept his cool and said, “We’re not going to have the sergeants go through and check everybody’s papers.”
A similar bill passed Senate Ed two years ago but was defeated on the Senate floor. Chances of Senate passage are considered better this year, but prospects are uncertain in the Republican-controlled House. The measure has no GOP cosponsors in either house.
The sponsors have dubbed the measure the ASSET bill and are pitching the economic development benefits of having more students go to college.
A legislative staff analysis estimates only about 740 students would be directly affected by the bill, which they also estimate could raise tuition revenues from about $215,000 a year to about $430,000. Total enrollment at state colleges and universities is about 185,000.
The bill sets the following criteria for eligible students:
- Attendance at a Colorado high school for at least three years
- Admission to a state college within a year of graduating high school or earning a GED.
- Filing of an affidavit saying the student has applied for lawful status or intends to do so when eligible.
The bill actually would create a third level of tuition, since students covered by the bill would not be eligible for College Opportunity Fund stipends or state need-based financial aid so would pay more than other resident students. (The stipends are an off-the-top tuition discount that varies year-to-year based on legislative decisions.)
Average annual resident tuition at research universities is $13,325 a year and $10,535 at four-year colleges, according to the legislative staff note. It’s about $2,900 at community colleges.
Non-resident tuition varies widely. Trustees are free to set it where they wish depending on the financial strategies of individual colleges. At Metro State, which works hard to attract non-traditional and minority students, resident tuition was $2,850 in 2009-10 while non-residents paid $12,343. Non-resident tuition at the University of Colorado-Boulder is more than double that.
Committee roll call
Yes – Democrats Bacon, Evie Hudak of Westminster, Rollie Heath of Boulder, Johnston and Jeanne Nicholson of Gilpin County.
No – Republicans Scott Renfroe of Greeley and Nancy Spence of Centennial.
Sen. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs, wasn’t present for the vote.