For more than a decade, if you were not a U.S. citizen, no matter how smart you were in school or how long you lived in Arizona you would not be eligible for in-state college tuition.
“It took me 12 years to graduate and get my degree in biochemistry. So, I know well that feeling of a dead end and what it feels like. This is exciting,” said Karina Ruiz who is now Director of the Arizona Dream Act Coalition.
Ruiz is smiling because the Arizona House passed Senate Concurrent Resolution 1044. The resolution allows voters to decide in 2022 if all students who attend an Arizona high school for two years and graduate become eligible for in-state college tuition.
SCR 1044 also exempts post-secondary education from the definition of a state or public benefit. Arizona residents who do not have legal immigration status can’t access those benefits.
SCR 1044 passed the Senate early in the session. But it stalled in the House until last week.
On Thursday, Republican State Representatives Michelle Udall and Joel John resurrected the bill with the help of House Democrats.
“It’s not their fault the federal government can’t get a handle on the border. Or that the immigration system is in shambles,” Udall (R ) Mesa-District-25 said. “We cannot continue to hold them hostage on the basis of actions or inactions of others.”
The move circumvented the will of Speaker of the House Rusty Bowers. Bowers said he supports the resolution, but argued he was holding it until he convinced enough Republicans to vote for it.
He was not happy two of his own members were not willing to wait. “I congratulate those who feel a gain and a benefit, but I can’t support the way this was done,” Bowers said.
According to the Arizona Dream Act Coalition, approximately 1,000 undocumented students lose out on in-state college tuition every year in Arizona.
The difference in tuition is substantial. Not counting books and fees, in-state tuition at Arizona’s three public universities averages around $12,000 a year. For an out-of-state student, depending on the major, tuition can run as high as $36,000.
Ruiz says, “this proposition that’s going to be referred to the ballot is a light of hope for those students who have a chance to continue education into college.”