Colorado's controversial education policy

Opinion is divided on policy that allows undocumented students the chance to study for a degree at a discounted rate.


    A controversial new policy offering undocumented students the chance to study for a degree at a discounted rate is now up and running at a university in the western US state of Colorado.
    The policy at Metropolitan State University in Denver - within sight of the picturesque Rocky Mountains - has as many supporters but also quite a few detractors.
    I was on campus on Monday just as 24,000 students who attend Metro State turned up for their first day back after the long summer vacation. 

    It's always an exciting day but no one was happier than Sarahi Hernandez. 

    The 19-year-old and her mom burst into tears one day last June when Metro State announced it's special in-state tuition plans for the undocumented. 

    "I knew that I was going to be able to take as many classes as I could and my father knew that he wouldn't have to be working overtime or you know spending less time with the family to be able to support me through college," she told me.

    The fee structure 

    Dr Luis Torres, the Deputy Provost at Metro State, told me the university wanted to do something to help undocumented students for whom the cost of education in the US is all too often prohibitive. 

    "This assists in so many ways to educate a group that previously could not afford education, we think is a great step forward for Denver and the rest of the state."

    In practical terms, $7,157.04 is what undocumented immigrants will pay per year to attend Metro State, which is nearly $3,000 higher than fully legal in-state students but over $8,000 lower than the out of state tuition fee undocumented immigrants have had to scrape together before now. 

    They will still not be eligible for any federal or state benefits.  They must find the money themselves but obviously it's a lot cheaper than before.

    To qualify, an undocumented student must have attended high school in Colorado for three years, received a high school diploma and be in good legal standing other than the undocumented status.

    Metro State University's move puts Colorado on a list of almost a dozen US states who offer some sort of in-state tuition rates to undocumented students.

    So far about 100 new applications have been received from undocumented students wishing to attend Metro State.

    There are also about 80 students who will now have the benefit of a full time education instead of only attending classes if and when they've had the money.

    All of the students were brought here as children by their parents and all call the US - not their country of origin - home.

    Talk of a lawsuit

    While I was on campus I couldn't find any students who didn't think Metro State's idea was a good one.

    Not everyone in Denver, however, is delighted about the new policy.

    In June, following a raft of complaints, the Colorado state attorney general investigated the practice of offering discounted tuition to undocumented students and, in a lengthy opinion, found that such a decision should be taken by the legislature, not individual higher education institutions.  There's talk of legal action, maybe a lawsuit, but Professor Torres says the University feels it's on fairly strong legal ground.

    "We studied the laws in great detail before we decided to do this ... it took us quite some time to study the relevant state and federal laws and we firmly believe that we are in full compliance with most state and federal laws."

    For now Sarahi and the other undocumented students at Metro State are putting any thoughts of legal challenges to their education out of their minds.

    In Sarahi's case, she's just thrilled to have the opportunity to study, and hopefully fulfil her ambition to be a counsellor working to help troubled youngsters.



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