The Arizona Senate voted Feb. 20 to give all the state’s high school graduates, including Deferred Action Childhood Arrival recipients, a break on the cost of tuition at Arizona community colleges and universities regardless of when they graduated and where they now live.
SB 1217 directs the Arizona Board of Regents and community college governing boards to set a new tuition rate separate from tuition for in-state residents. Doing so would provide a path to lower tuition rates for immigrants under the DACA program, and even undocumented students.
As long as you attend and graduate high school in Arizona, you’d be eligible for the new tuition rate at any time in your life, according to Sen. Heather Carter, the bill’s sponsor.
The new rate wouldn’t supersede in-state tuition if an Arizona resident is eligible for it. But for Arizona expats, Carter, R-Cave Creek, envisions the graduate’s rate as a way to attract students of all ages back to the Arizona in pursuit of a higher education.
Carter said she’s agnostic about the bill’s application for DACA students.
“I’m creating a new tuition classification that is targeted to two things: Are you eligible to go to college, and did you graduate high school,” Carter said. “In Arizona, we need more individuals who are either trained in a career and technical program who have a two-year degree, a four-year degree, a master’s degree or a doctorate degree. And that’s what this bill does.
The bill passed with an 18-12 bipartisan majority, with five Republicans joining the chamber’s Democratic Caucus to approve the bill.
Most Senate Republicans opposed the bill, which bypasses Proposition 300, the 2006 voter-approved law that bars anyone “without lawful immigration status” from being classified as an in-state student for tuition purposes.
“In my opinion, this violates the Arizona Constitution with Prop. 300,” said Sen. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert. “The entire intent of Prop. 300 was to contemplate the tuition that was lower than someone would pay out-of-state.”
Carter said that Prop. 300, and court rulings upholding the law, narrowly applied to in-state tuition. SB 1217 skirts the issue by creating a new tuition rate.
“Everything that is in place is still in place. We didn’t say, ‘ignore part of the Constitution, ignore state statute.’ When Prop. 300 was passed, it said specifically ‘in-state tuition.’ This is not in-state tuition,” Carter said after the vote.
“You can’t pass a proposition on something that doesn’t exist,” she added. “This new tuition rate didn’t exist when the proposition was put to voters.”
The bill must still be approved by the House of Representatives and signed by Gov. Doug Ducey to become law.