Regents reduce tuition for immigrant students, AZ high school grads

By: - August 22, 2019 5:16 pm

In Arizona, about 2,000 students without immigration status graduate from high school every year, according to the Migration Policy Institute. Pictured are graduates from North High School in Phoenix during a commencement ceremony on May 22, 2019. Photo by Laura Gómez | Arizona Mirror

Effective immediately, students who graduated from an Arizona high school but don’t qualify for in-state tuition will pay between $9,000 to $18,000 less in annual tuition at the state’s three public universities, regardless of their immigration status.

The Arizona Board of Regents, the governing body for the state’s three public universities, voted on Thursday to expand a 2015 policy that was intended to cover students who have temporary immigration and work benefits under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. No ABOR member opposed the policy revision.  

The change is meant to cover undocumented immigrant students and state high school graduates who left Arizona, according to ABOR. 

The policy, titled “Non-Resident Tuition Rate for Arizona High School Graduates,” sets tuition at 150% of the in-state rate. This middle-ground tuition rate is more affordable than the out-of-state annual price by about $9,300 at Northern Arizona University, approximately $12,700 at Arizona State University and almost $18,400 at the University of Arizona.  

The revision approved Thursday eliminates a “lawfully present in Arizona” requirement from the original policy, which universities used to bring in DACA recipients but not other immigrant youth, according to ABOR spokeswoman Sarah Harper. 

The change means more people now qualify for the 150% tuition rate. 

Under the new policy, all undergraduate students are eligible if they attended Arizona high schools for three years, graduated from an Arizona high school and don’t qualify for in-state tuition. 

‘All about the future of Arizona’

In recent years, Arizona business leaders and some Republican lawmakers have made the argument that making higher education more affordable for more students will benefit the Arizona economy. 

During Thursday’s meeting, ABOR Chair Larry Penley made a similar point. 

“By the time we get to 2027, 2032, 2033… we will have a much lower number of eligible young people who will be attending our universities,” he said. “At the same time, we will have an unknown number of people who… could be retiring. The problem we confront means that we have a responsibility in this state to educate as many people as we can.” 

Penley added that colleges and universities have a responsibility to welcome students who went through the local public school system. 

“This particular motion, in my perspective, is all about the future of Arizona. And it is about readying Arizona for what is coming down the road, and expresses a responsibility to our students who have left the P-through-12 education system, and now may well seek entry into our colleges and universities,” he said.  

Every year, 2,000 youth without an immigration status graduate from Arizona high schools, a Migration Policy Institute study estimated.

Those students pay significantly higher rates to attend the state’s public higher education institutions. That’s because Arizona voters passed Proposition 300 in 2006, which prohibits Arizona residents without lawful immigration status from being eligible for in-state or resident tuition. People without immigration status also can’t apply for financial aid and student loans, meaning they mostly rely on private assistance to pay for college. 

Currently at the public universities, tuition for non-residents is more than twice as expensive — for ASU it’s 2.7 times higher, at NAU it is 2.4 times higher and it’s 3 times higher at UofA.

ABOR Executive Director John Arnold said the 150% tuition rate is not subsidized by public money.  

He explained that, because no new young immigrants can currently benefit from DACA, ABOR moved to expand the tuition category so high school graduates stay and study in Arizona.  

DACA has been in place since 2012. It gives certain immigrants who arrived in the country prior to June 2007 and before turning 16 a temporary employment authorization card and discretionary deferral from deportation. 

The Trump administration ended DACA in September 2017. Through different court challenges, DACA was kept partly in place, but only for those who had already applied. No new applicants can benefit from it. 

Several hundred students were enrolled last spring under the 150% tuition rate. 

ASU spokeswoman Meenah Rincon told Arizona Mirror in February that 329 students were enrolled under the non-resident tuition rate in the spring. UofA spokesman Chris Sigurdson told the Mirror in February 55 students under the 150% tuition rate were enrolled during the spring semester. NAU spokeswoman Kimberly Ann Ott didn’t address a January inquiry from the Mirror on how many students are enrolled who pay the 150% tuition rate, but said 11 students at NAU self-identify as DACA recipients. 

In Arizona, there’s about 24,990 people who are DACA recipients as of April, according to federal data. Nearly 90 percent of them reside in the Phoenix-metro area. 

Advocates: New policy means hope, but there’s more work ahead

The new ABOR policy means hope, said Denis Alvarez, with the Undocuments Students for Education Equity at ASU.

“I feel like this is going to give a lot of students hope, for those who don’t have DACA,” Alvarez said. 

Alvarez is a junior at ASU and benefits from DACA. She thinks it’s positive that university leaders are thinking about the undocumented community beyond DACA recipients.

“A lot of times, (young people without DACA) have been left out of the conversation, out of the ‘dreamer’ narrative. This is going to make them a part of that conversation,” she said. “This isn’t about DACA students, this is about the whole undocumented community.”

Karina Ruiz, executive director for the Arizona Dream Action Coalition, also agrees the tuition policy change means hope for many.  

“This is a positive change,” Ruiz said. “Unfortunetly, although this change is positive, we still have a lot of work to do, because undocumented students often times don’t have the wages… they don’t make enough money to pay and afford 150%.”

Ruiz, who has a temporary work permit and protection from deportation under DACA, said it took her 12 years to graduate from ASU, mainly because of the financial burden. 

Her eyes are set on pushing for the repeal of Prop. 300, she said. 

“What real change looks like is access to resident tuition and financial aid assistance, just like any other student,” Ruiz said.

The Prop. 300 repeal is something other immigrant advocacy groups consider as a permanent solution. 

The tuition rate expansion still leaves tuition at the state’s community colleges significantly more expensive to immigrants with no lawful status. 

For the 2019-20 school year, tuition in the Maricopa County Community College District costs almost four times higher for non-residents ($85 per credit hour for residents vs $326 for out-of-state students). 

A bill that would have set new tuition rates at community colleges and universities for all who graduate from an Arizona high school, regardless of state of residence or immigration status, failed this legislative session.

Senate Bill 1217 had support from the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry and other business groups, non-profit education organizations, community colleges and the Arizona Board of Regents.

“We can’t afford to wait in Arizona,” said Sen. Heather Carter, who sponsored SB1217. “Kids that are graduating high school today and have done everything we’ve asked them to do should have an affordable path to higher education.”

The Republican from Cave Creek succeeded in getting SB1217 through the Senate, but Republican House Speaker Rusty Bowers stopped it. Carter maneuvered to bring back the proposal, but Republican Senate President Karen Fann killed it.

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Laura Gómez
Laura Gómez

Laura Gómez Rodriguez previously covered state politics and immigration for the Arizona Mirror.