A half-dozen times, Colorado lawmakers have failed to pass legislation that would offer reduced college tuition to Colorado high school graduates who are in the country illegally, despite widespread – even bipartisan – support for doing so. Recognizing the benefits such a discount would bring to its current and prospective students, the Metropolitan State College of Denver Board of Trustees last week decided to address the issue via its own policy. It was a bold move that will have wide-ranging political ramifications.
The plan was hatched last October when trustees anticipated that the Colorado ASSET bill, which would have lowered tuition for illegal-immigrant students across the state, would not pass in the Legislature. As predicted, the measure failed, prompting trustees to approve a plan that would offer a special tuition rate to nonresident students who have earned a Colorado high school diploma or GED and who have lived in the state for at least three years. The rate of $3,358 per semester would be higher than that paid by in-state students – $2,896 – but less than the out-of-state tuition cost of $7,992.
The difference is significant enough to make or break the possibility of college for talented, driven and qualified immigrant students. Metro’s trustees are right to push for the former. Their 7-1 vote approving the policy change has not impressed some lawmakers, though, and the rush is on to politicize the issue. That is not surprising, but it is not necessary, either.
The arguments against such a policy change come in two forms, neither of which is particularly compelling: rejecting action on any immigration-related remedies until a comprehensive federal solution is achieved – a rationalization that is a little like waiting for world peace – and bruised political egos.
Republicans are expressing indignation about Metro’s move, saying the college has overstepped its role in extending the discount, particularly since the Legislature killed a measure to do so – multiple times. That anger is prompting outright threats from some lawmakers, including Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen, who told The Denver Post that Metro can look forward to blowback for its boldness: “They’re risking a lot by doing this,” said Gerou, who is chairwoman of the Legislature’s Joint Budget Committee. “When I vote on funding, I have to feel comfortable with the schools I’m working with. I don’t think they’re being respectful of the process.”
The Colorado Commission on Higher Education, however, maintains that Metro has the right to set its own tuition rates. Other colleges and universities are watching closely, awaiting an opinion from Colorado Attorney General John Suthers on the policy’s legality.
There are, of course, many nuances to the case, and Suthers’ opinion will reveal many of them. But fundamentally, Metro State’s intentions were just right: to broaden access to the education it provides to more students, particularly those who are most likely to be interested in the institution – or already served by it. That could be considered political, but at its root, the decision seems based in a commitment to students who seek to pursue higher education. There is little to criticize in that.