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Metro cuts cost for undocumented

Stepping where the legislature has feared to tread, the trustees of Metropolitan State College today voted 7-1 to create a separate tuition rate for undocumented students, saving money for such students, who now have to pay out-of-state rates.

The legislature this year killed Senate Bill 12-015, which would have explicitly allowed state colleges to set such separate rates. It was the sixth time the General Assembly has killed such legislation.“I don’t believe we necessarily have to wait for the legislature to act,” said trustee Terrance Carroll, a Democratic former speaker of the Colorado House. “Sometimes our political leaders are behind the times.”

About 20 people – all but one in favor – signed up to speak about the issue to the board, which met at the Auraria Higher Education Center before a large crowd.

Metro officials said they believe existing state law allows them to create the new rate, especially because it is structured to avoid state subsidies to such students.

“There is a very clear history in this state on the authority of governing boards” to set tuition rates for students who aren’t residents, said President Steve Jordan.

State Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, testified in support of the plan and said enacting it is “squarely within the authority the legislature has given you.”

The new tuition rate will be $3,578.50 for 15 credit hours, a full class load for one semester. The comparable tuition for out-of-state students will be $7,992.60 next year, and the resident cost will be $3,082.

The rate for undocumented students is structured to avoid any taxpayer subsidy of such students and is intended to reflect the full cost of education, something that’s partially subsidized for resident students. Undocumented students also won’t be eligible for state or institutional financial aid.

Jordan noted that the elimination of any subsidy differentiates the policy from SB 12-015, the so-called ASSET bill.

State and federal law bar taxpayer subsidies for undocumented students, and the issue of subsidy has been a central part of legislative debates over such proposals.

Policy sets eligibility requirements

To be eligible for the new rate a student must have attended a Colorado high school for at least three years, graduated from a Colorado high school or received a general equivalency diploma in this state and provide a statement that they are in good legal standing, other than their undocumented or unclassified status, and are seeking or intend to seek lawful status when eligible.

Voting for the new policy, called the Colorado High School/GED Tuition Rate, were Carroll, Robert Cohen, Melody Harris, Bill Hanzlik, Walter Isenberg, Michelle Lucero and Walter Isenberg. Trustee Jack Pogge voted no, saying, “I don’t think it’s our position to do this.” Dawn Bookhardt was absent.

Jordan said Metro currently has an estimated 120 undocumented students and that with the new rate, “We estimate we would achieve as many as 300 new students.” The president said even though the new rate is higher than resident tuition, “Students believe that it is a much affordable rate.”

The new policy will be controversial, Jordan acknowledged, saying, “The specter of some kind of accountability in the legislative process has been raised” and that a lawsuit is possible.

“We are confident in our legal position,” he said.

Little reaction from elsewhere in higher ed

Later in the day, Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia briefed the Colorado Commission on Higher Education about Metro’s move. “It is within the purview of the board to set non-resident tuition rates,” Garcia said without expressing an opinion on the policy. Garcia also is executive director of DHE.

Department spokesman Chad Marturano said Metro informed DHE of its plan but “there was no approval of Metro’s intent, nor was any approval sought.”

“We are taking no position,” said CCHE chair Hereford Percy. Garcia said the Metro policy doesn’t require commission review. The commission did endorse the ASSET bill earlier this year.

Officials at the University of Colorado, Colorado State University, the community college system, the University of Northern Colorado and Adams State College said the issue hadn’t been discussed within their institutions. CU President Bruce Benson and Colorado Mesa University President Tim Foster declined to comment on the Metro decision.

Every state college board except the School of Mines endorsed SB 12-015 earlier this year.

In other action

The Metro trustees also approved the school’s 2012-13 budget and other tuition rates. Tuition for resident undergraduate students will jump 13 percent, an increase that had been expected under the Metro five-year financial plan approved by the CCHE a year and a half ago.

The board also adopted a new logo and seal for the institution’s name change to Metropolitan State University of Denver, which takes effect July 1.

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