Senate Bill 126

Tuition break would benefit students, economy

There is ample data showing that the best way to improve an individual’s financial prospects is to educate that individual. The higher level of education a person achieves, the higher income he or she can expect to earn.

Those earnings reflect good things for the broader community, as well: They contribute to increased economic productivity and its associated revenue streams that fill tax and Social Security coffers. Overlying the earnings argument, though, is the fact that more education means a more skilled workforce that has all sorts of positive local, state and national implications. Making education accessible, then, should be a policy priority for all lawmakers. Colorado legislators have just such an opportunity with Senate Bill 126, the Advancing Students for a Stronger Economy Tomorrow Act.

Known as ASSET, the measure would allow undocumented Colorado high school students to pay in-state tuition rates, provided they had attended a Colorado high school for three years and graduated or earned a GED. It would not extend to these students access to College Opportunity Funds or financial aid, making the measure a no-cost opportunity to increase access to education.

It received initial approval in the Colorado Senate last week, and awaits final approval before it heads to the House. It will face a difficult trial there but not for any good reason.

Improving the educational prospects of all Colorado residents is in the state’s best interest, particularly when doing so does not carry a budgetary implication. This applies to all students in a climate where high school and college graduation rates are flatlined or falling; it is all the more important for immigrant students, who perform behind their peers in any number of indicators including reading and math markers, high school grade point average, graduation and college attendance.

Closing that gap benefits all involved and providing in-state tuition rates to students who could use as many motivators as possible is a painless way of doing that.

Beyond the calculable implications are the cultural benefits that encouraging education carries. Latino immigrants and their children – documented or otherwise – are consistently on the losing end of the education performance gap and are also lower earners than their native counterparts. With limited financial means, cost barriers to education can become insurmountable for immigrant families and the conversation about post-high school plans could easily not include college. Soon enough, education slips as a priority, compounding the limitations of not seeking it. Conversely, by making access to education less financially burdensome, the Legislature can help families broaden their possibilities.

There are 11 states that currently provide in-state tuition to undocumented students, and a Columbia University study projects that doing so will yield big results among immigrants: a 14 percent increase in high school graduation rates, a 31 percent boost in college enrollment and 33 percent rise in those who earn college degrees. The associated benefits of those increases could have far-reaching implications for the states that extend in-state tuition to undocumented students; Colorado would do well to pursue the course.

The Senate Education Committee will take up the measure on Monday. If it is approved, it will go on to the House. Lawmakers in that chamber would be wise to consider the far-reaching gains SB 126 will afford individuals, families and the state.