Arizona’s three public universities approved Thursday to give reduced tuition to undocumented students who graduate from local high schools and cannot apply for Deferred Action (DACA) after President Donald Trump closed the program.
“This is all about the future of our state. We have a responsibility to students who have attended kindergarten through 12th grade in our schools and now want to continue their education at our universities,” said Larry E. Penley, president of the Board of Regents.
In 2015, public universities implemented a program to grant reduced tuition to students protected under the DACA program who had a “legal presence” in the United States.
The resolution now passed unanimously, and which goes into effect immediately, removes both requirements.
This is because new students graduating from high schools cannot apply to DACA because the Trump Administration closed the program in 2017, starting a battle that will reach the federal Supreme Court later this year.
Under the new regulation, in order to get tuition, students without this legal status must have graduated from a high school in Arizona and have attended at least three years of high school in this state.
This avoids having to pay tuition as foreign students, for whom the average semester is about $30,000.
On the other hand, a student at a university in Arizona pays about $12,000 per semester as a resident, while for undocumented students with reduced tuition the outlay for the same period amounts to $18,000.
That reduced number, not as a resident, is due to the fact that in 2006 a state law that prohibits undocumented immigrants from paying college tuition as residents was passed, regardless of whether they graduated from local high schools or how many years they have lived in Arizona.
Penley said the regents recognize the investment that has been made in these young people and hope they can continue their college education in this state and contribute to the local economy.
The established changes will be permanent until state or federal law changes, the regents said.
According to the Pew Research Center, until 2016 it is estimated that approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants reside in the U.S., including 700,000 people protected under the DACA program.
Karina Ruiz, president of the DREAM ACT Coalition, called this change a “positive first step.
“Ideally, they would reduce tuition by 100 percent, but we know there’s a state law that doesn’t allow it, but it’s important that universities seek to help these students who are being left out since the Trump administration closed DACA,” Ruiz told Efe.
He indicated that paying less than what out-of-state students pay makes a big difference between students who do not have the monetary resources to pay for their higher education.
Even with reduced tuition the “dream” of a higher education is very difficult for undocumented students to achieve.
Currently, 12 states are offering some form of financial assistance to students without immigration status to continue their college education, including financial aid or low tuition, among them the neighboring states of California and New Mexico.
Ruiz recalled that young undocumented students, even if they are covered by DACA, are not eligible to receive federal or state scholarships to pay for college.
It is estimated that about 2,000 students are currently enrolled at Arizona universities and are eligible to pay reduced tuition.
For years, undocumented students have struggled to have an opportunity to continue their studies in Arizona, however some have opted to seek better opportunities in other states where they are offered more payment facilities or have even returned to their home countries.
This is a situation faced by students like Rosa Fuentes, who last May graduated from a high school in Tucson.
“I knocked on a lot of doors, but the help for students who don’t have a Social Security number is very, very little,” she told Efe.
Unable to afford college, she said she decided to enroll in a community college and take only two classes this semester.