In-state tuition legislation

Among the best ways to set a course for a productive and prosperous future is to invest in education. That is true from both the individual and community perspectives: Those who make the effort to seek educational resources and those who commit to providing them will reap the benefits, albeit in different ways. The common denominator, though, is that an educated population is an asset that always is worth cultivating.

Making education accessible for those who stand most to gain from it, then, is in the common interest of individuals and communities. In that pursuit, a measure that would allow young people who are in the United States illegally to pay a reduced tuition rate at Colorado colleges and universities is the right move for the state Legislature. Senate Bill 15 made an important advance Monday when it passed the full Senate – predictably along a party-line vote. The House should follow suit and send the bill to Gov. John Hickenlooper.

The measure would allow illegal immigrant children who have attended three years of high school in Colorado to receive a discount in tuition at public colleges and universities in the state, bringing these students’ rate closer to the in-state level enjoyed by legal Colorado residents. Students affected by the measure would not receive the $1,800 stipend that full-time in-state students are granted. They also would not be eligible for state-funded, need-based financial aid. Nevertheless, the measure goes a significant distance in making higher education accessible to students for whom it otherwise might not be attainable. That can be only a positive endeavor.

Critics of Senate Bill 15, including Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, say that extending the benefit of in-state tuition to those in the country illegally sends the wrong message about the need for federal immigration reform. Roberts has been steadfast in her position that by making education more attainable for illegal immigrants, Colorado is setting up those students for a doubly negative postcollege reality: heavy debt loads and lack of employability because of immigration laws. In her view, Colorado should wait for Congress to comprehensively address the immigration situation before states take up any such measures. That seems neither a realistic nor fair approach to anyone involved.

Congress has not been exactly jumping at the opportunity to take up comprehensive immigration reform, and in the meantime, the system is growing increasingly murky and burdensome – for immigrants and those charged with enforcing existing laws. When eager, driven and dedicated students are penalized for the collective institutional inertia these systems are demonstrating, there is lost opportunity for everyone. Some of the best and brightest students may never realize their potential, and the innovation and productivity that could flow from that potential is not captured.

Rather than waiting for the federal legislative equivalent of world peace with respect to the very real issue of immigration rules, Colorado can and should make changes where it can and in ways that benefit all in the state. Making education more accessible to a broader population of Colorado residents who have proved their ability and shown interest in pursuing higher education opens doors to all sorts of positive possibilities: for future careers, policy debates and social justice in Colorado and well beyond. When the Colorado House of Representatives takes up Senate Bill 15, it should make short work of passing it. The benefits are many; the downsides are purely political.

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