AZ on forefront of eliminating access to higher education for immigrant youth
It feels like a punch on the stomach. Arizona students are not forbidden to attend community colleges and universities but they have been priced out, especially in Maricopa County. The laws imposed on them had created a practical ban on higher education for the great majority of undocumented youth. On the day community colleges classes start in 10 institutions in the Metro Phoenix area, members of the Arizona DREAM Act Coalition and Education Advocates mark with sadness the elimination of affordable tuition rates for out-of-state students.
Last March, Maricopa Community Colleges District (MCCCD) approved a tuition hike close to 230% targeting “Out of State” individuals including, but not exclusively, undocumented students which already made countless sacrifices to pay for one or two classes each semester. “Out of State” students taking six credits hours or less (one or two classes) paid last semester 96 dollars per credit. Under the new policies implemented, MCCCD is charging 317 dollars per credit or about 1000 dollars per class. Students taking more than six credits have been paying triple “In State Tuition” for years already. Before the tuition hike, 1 to 6 credit hours was the little window of opportunity for affordable higher education undocumented students had in one of the largest community colleges systems in the nation.
Beyond the tuition hike, MCCCD voted for a harsh interpretation of laws that require the reporting to ICE and DHS of undocumented students by the institution that students are supposed to trust. The financial and admission departments’ personnel are forced to report on the immigration status of students. The powerful and influential Legal Counsel threatens jail time to non-compliant personnel. The process in which these changes were implemented was done in secrecy, with original implementation task forces disappearing and other political interest groups supplanting a cross-section of the departments that deal with enrollment.
The implementation of these measures is contrary to the financial health of MCCCD because they will lose income from thousands of students, and now it takes more personnel time to check on the paperwork of all students. Also new forms have been printed, new processes established and hasty personnel training given to have the appearance of compliance also adds to the costs of implementing flawed policies. The MCCCD board has, in short, betrayed its own mission of providing access to higher education. The new policies are also affecting programs that MCCCD had in partnership with K-12 institutions including ACE, dual enrollment, and its own charter schools, which prepared students to move into post-secondary education. The reporting issue is also present in these environments, possibly violating federal laws.
This situation in Arizona is contrary to the well-being of the state. Our state will not have a globally competitive workforce if higher education affordability is eliminated for thousands and thousands of students. What happens in Arizona is a cautionary tale of the spreading tentacles of a battery of immigration laws passed over a period of time.
Carmen Cornejo is a DREAM Act and education activist, business woman and mom from the Phoenix Metro area. Learn more at: www.dreamactaz.org