Members of the legislature’s Joint Budget Committee had plenty of questions for President Stephen Jordan today about the Metro State Board of Trustees’ decision to provide a new category of non-resident tuition for which undocumented students would be eligible. It was an information session and no votes or decisions were made.
The rate is lower than out-of-state students pay, but higher than resident students pay. It is the true cost of education, according to Jordan, without any taxpayer subsidy and includes a 10 percent fee for the use of campus facilities.
The Board of Trustees approved the Colorado High School/GED Non-resident Tuition Rate by a vote of 7-1 at its June 7 meeting. The decision came after the Colorado General Assembly failed in the 2012 session to pass a bill (SB12-015, the ASSET bill) allowing undocumented students a resident tuition rate.
The JBC had already invited Jordan to today’s scheduled meeting to explain the reasoning behind the trustees’ decision when Colorado Attorney General John Suthers issued an opinion yesterday stating that the new tuition rate creates a tuition category that is a "public benefit," which can be given only to individuals who can prove their lawful presence in the United States. Other state higher education institutions interested in the possibility of instituting a similar rate had asked for Suthers’ opinion. The opinion noted, and legislators at today's meeting pointed out, that it is a controversial issue on which "reasonable people may disagree."
Jordan told the legislators that the decision was motivated by several factors. "We have this mantra that we are an institution of opportunity," he said. "We have historically served the largest population of low-income, first-generation and historically under-represented populations, and we're very proud of that."
There were some economic considerations as well, Jordan said. By extending an affordable but unsubsidized tuition rate to students, "They would be able to contribute to our economy in a more meaningful way," and be less of a potential drain on state social services.
Speaking after Jordan, Metro State Trustee Melody Harris echoed his statement, saying she had not initially supported the idea but, "I was persuaded by President Jordan and fellow trustees but also by members of various chambers of commerce that this would help provide an educated workforce. I care very much about our business community."
Rep. Jon Becker (R-Ft. Morgan) questioned Jordan specifically about the difference between subsidized and unsubsidized tuition, including administrative costs. The Colorado High School/GED Non-resident Tuition Rate includes "all costs associated with education in the general operating budget," Jordan replied.
Deputy Attorney General David Blake said the legal opinion offered yesterday was based on a reading of Colorado and federal law that says that states had to act affirmatively to provide lower tuition eligibility to undocumented students. He said that where the Metro State trustees viewed the tuition rate as covering the full cost of education at the institution, the fact that it is lower than non-resident tuition means that it is "a public benefit. It is assistance, aid or help. ... You are running afoul of state and federal law," Blake said.
The Colorado High School/GED Non-resident Tuition Rate is designed for students who live in Colorado, have attended and graduated from a Colorado high school or hold a GED, and through no fault of their own, are not able to document the legal status that would make them eligible for resident tuition rates under current Colorado and federal law.
They would not be eligible for financial aid or student loans.
Here is a comparison of tuition rates (15 credit hours/two semesters) set by the Board of Trustees for the 2012-13 academic year:
- Colorado resident tuition = $4,304
- Non-resident tuition = $15,985
- Colorado High School/GED Non-resident tuition = $7,157
Students eligible for the Colorado High School/GED Non-resident Tuition Rate also must pay all mandatory student fees and, if applicable, student health insurance.
According to Cathy Lucas, associate to the president for marketing and communications, the next steps for Jordan and the trustees will be to assess the Attorney General’s opinion, take into consideration the relevant landscape, and re-group at a later time.
“This has always been about providing an opportunity for students who the state of Colorado has already made an investment in,” said Trustee Melody Harris. It is directly aligned with Metro State’s role and mission of providing affordable and accessible education to Colorado students, she said.
Watch @Metro for updates as they develop.
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