Regents propose new university tuition rate for ‘dreamers’

Regents propose new university tuition rate for ‘dreamers’

Regents Chairman Mark Killian, left, and Gov. Doug Ducey.  (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)
Regents Chairman Mark Killian, left, and Gov. Doug Ducey. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

Potentially courting a lawsuit, the Board of Regents is weighing a plan to let “dreamers” pay less than the full out-of-state tuition they are now charged at state universities.

The plan calls for a tuition rate equivalent of 150 percent of whatever figure is ultimately set next month for in-state tuition. That would apply to students who have been accepted into the federal government’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and graduated from an Arizona high school.

And that is far below what they now have are being charged.

At the University of Arizona, for example, the requested in-state tuition for new students next year would be $11,403. If the new policy is adopted, dreamers would pay $17,105.

By comparison, the proposed tuition for non-Arizona residents is set to go to $32,630.

Gov. Doug Ducey, who also is a voting member of the board, said he wants to review the final plan that goes to the board before deciding whether to support it.

The governor would not answer a question of whether it’s fair to charge full out-of-state tuition to Arizona high school graduates, students whose parents have presumably have paid taxes here.

Yet his own tuition to Arizona State University during the 1980s was subsidized by taxpayers even though he graduated from high school in Ohio. He got himself reclassified as an Arizona resident student part way through his college career, allowing him to pay in-state tuition.

That also was when state aid paid three-fourths of the cost of going to college; with the latest proposed increases, state funding will drop below a quarter.

“I want to see opportunity for all,” Ducey responded to the inquiry about his own tuition.

“But I also want to see us follow the law,” Ducey continued. “So I want to see what the regents propose and then we’re going to review it in full.”

That question of what the law requires is not as simple as it seems.

A 2006 voter-approved ballot measure limits in-state tuition to citizens and legal residents of the United States who also meet state residency requirements. It also denies waivers of tuition or fees, grants, scholarships, financial aid, tuition assistance “or any other type of financial assistance that is subsidized or paid in whole or in part with state monies.”

The state already has sued Maricopa County Community College over its policy of granting in-state tuition to students there. The Attorney General’s Office disagrees with the contention by college officials that DACA status means the students are in this country legally and qualify.

A judge heard arguments last month but has not yet ruled.

Regents Chairman Mark Killian said he charging in-state tuition, being done not only in the Maricopa byt also the Pima community college systems, clearly runs afoul of the 2006 ban on in-state tuition.

By contrast, the regents’ plan would create an entirely new tuition rate for dreamers. And Killian said that 150 percent figure is also designed to ensure that it covers the cost of education, ensuring it also does not run afoul of the part of the voter-approved law banning the state from subsidizing the students’ education.

Jay Heiler, in line to chair the board, said he thinks the plan is legally defensible. More to the point, he said it’s the right thing to do.

“The board has put a great deal of time and study into this issue in terms of the individuals affected and the legal restrictions under which we operate,” Heiler said. “The board would like to do everything that it can do for these kids.”

But Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said the proposal would violate the 2006 law.

“The clear spirit of that law is you have to charge them out-of-state tuition,” he said. But Kavanagh, who was one of the designers of the 2010 law aimed at giving police more power to detain people suspected of being in this country illegally, said he is sympathetic to the plight of the dreamers.

“I don’t believe somebody brought here as a young child who’s become Americanized should be deported to a foreign country,” Kavanagh said. “They didn’t do anything wrong. Their parents were the lawbreakers.”

But Kavanagh also does not believe that President Obama had the power to enact the DACA program. It allows people brought to this country as children to remain without fear of deportation if they meet other conditions.

“Until Congress passes a law legalizing them, then they’re here illegally,” he said, and not entitled to special treatment.

That, however, is not the position the regents are taking.

In a fact sheet, the board acknowledged the students do not have “lawful immigration status,” something that would qualify them for in-state tuition. But the board said they are “lawfully present” in the United States by virtue of their DACA status.

Both Killian and Heiler rejected any suggestion that it makes no sense for the regents to lower tuition for dreamers even as the board complains the universities don’t have enough money because of cuts to state aid. Killian argued that the new tuition rate, which covers the operating costs, actually could bring in more money.

“There are a number of student right now that are not attending our universities because they cannot afford the tuition,” he said.

Ryan Anderson, press aide to Attorney General Mark Brnovich, said in essence that what his boss thinks of the plan is, for the moment, legally irrelevant, as he may have no legal authority to sue on his own. He said Brnovich may need a request from Ducey before deciding whether to go to court.