Craig As the Colorado House of Representatives prepares to take a final vote Friday on a bill that would allow illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition at public colleges and universities, Northwest Colorado college officials are optimistic the legislation will bring about positive changes.
Senate Bill 33 received initial approval Tuesday on a voice vote from the House and is expected to pass on the recorded vote as well. From there, it will be sent to Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat who has said he would sign the bill.
Colorado Northwestern Community College President Russell George said his school supports the bill because it creates access and opportunity, which aligns with the college’s mission and purpose.
George said he wasn’t sure how many existing CNCC students would be affected by the bill’s passage, but he said it certainly would make college more affordable for some.
“This might be an opportunity for some worthy young people who otherwise might not have been able to qualify,” George said.
Mindy Shue, assistant registrar and institutional research coordinator for CNCC, said the college doesn’t keep track of illegal immigrants who enroll, but she acknowledged there likely are at least a few such students.
Currently, if an illegal immigrant applies for admission to CNCC and can’t prove they are a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, they are allowed to enroll but are classified as nonresidents and must pay out-of-state tuition.
“Our goal is to help everyone,” Shue said. “We don’t have the application requirements some of the bigger colleges do. We’re here to get everyone where they need to be.”
Aside from opening the door of opportunity to more students, George said the bill would allow for increased enrollment, which CNCC campuses — and the Craig campus in particular — are ready to handle. George said the new Craig campus could handle twice as many or more than the number of students currently enrolled.
“We’re ready,” George said. “We can serve them, we have the capacity.”
Colorado Mountain College’s director of public relations Debra Crawford said the CMC board of trustees voted unanimously to express support for the bill in January. CMC’s Alpine Campus is in Steamboat Springs.
Ken Brenner, a CMC trustee from Steamboat Springs, said large Latino populations in many counties where CMC campuses are located was one of the reasons the board took a position of support for the bill.
“A large number of students fall under this category and we want to give them the opportunity to attend school where they live,” Brenner said. “We want to keep those students at home with their families and give them a chance to succeed.”
Brenner said compelling testimony and personal stories from the AJUA group, translated in English as “Association of Youth United in Action,” was another reason the board chose to support the bill.
AJUA member Junior Ortega said the bill is a step in the right direction. He said he knows there are students currently enrolled at CMC whose tuition status will change if the bill passes.
Brenner said the timing of the bill was fortuitous because it coincides with nationwide immigration reform efforts.
“Finally we’re seeing meaningful bipartisan efforts in D.C. to address a comprehensive immigration reform,” Brenner said.
Crawford said CMC follows guidelines from the Colorado Commission on Higher Education, granting in-state tuition to students who can demonstrate lawful presence. If a student can’t prove residency, they can choose to enroll anyways but pay out-of-state tuition.
Crawford said she didn’t know how many students’ resident classifications would change if the Senate Bill 33 passes, nor was she sure how many new undocumented students might enroll if offered in-state tuition.
However, not all undocumented students would receive in-state tuition under the proposed bill. To qualify for in-state tuition, prospective students would have to attend a public or private high school in Colorado for a least three years immediately preceding graduation, be admitted to a Colorado institution under a reciprocity agreement, and submit an affidavit showing they have applied for lawful presence or will apply as soon as they are able to.
Illegal immigrants also would be able to apply for the College Opportunity Fund under the new bill. The College Opportunity Fund is open only to undergraduates who are Colorado residents.
The bill has come under fire from many Republican lawmakers, who say it violates a 2006 bill that that forbids nonemergency benefits from going to illegal immigrants.
Republicans proposed amending the bill to refer it to voters, and said they should decide whether tax dollars should be used to benefit illegal immigrants who would pay lower tuition. The amendment failed.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Darian Warden can be reached at 875-1793 or firstname.lastname@example.org