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Arizona extends special tuition rate for students in US illegally

(Cronkite News Photo/Lerman Montoya)

PHOENIX — The Arizona Board of Regents voted Thursday to expand access to a special tuition rate to Arizona high school graduates living in the U.S. illegally.

The board dropped a requirement for students to be enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which has been frozen since 2017, in order to qualify for the special rate to the state’s three public universities.

“We kept hearing story after story about students who were so eager to go to our higher education institutions and yet they didn’t have a pathway forward,” Reyna Montoya, founder of Mesa nonprofit Aliento, told KTAR News 92.3 FM. 

She said Thursday’s vote was “very exciting.”

“I know that the students I work with, primarily DACA and undocumented, this really establishes a glimpse of hope for them,” she said.

The Arizona Chamber of Commerce also applauded the decision, calling it “the right thing to do.”

“Let’s give these talented kids the chance to study and build a life here,” it said on Twitter.

The special rate is 50% more than the in-state tuition rate, which ABOR spokeswoman Sarah Harper said covers the cost of university attendance without state subsidy.

It also applies to legal U.S. residents who graduated from Arizona high schools but moved away, losing their status as Arizona residents before returning to college.

The change takes effect immediately.

About 400 students paid the preferential tuition rate last semester, not all of them immigrants, according to officials from the three universities. It was unknown how many more students might take advantage of the tuition discount as a result of the rule change.

Regents say Arizona has made an investment in educating students through high school, and the state has an interest in helping those who want to pursue a degree to stay in the state.

Board chairman Larry Edward Penley said the universities will see enrollment drop in about a decade because birth rates dropped during the Great Recession. Combined with a growing number of retirees, the economy will need an educated workforce.

“The problem we confront means that we have a responsibility in this state to educate as many people as we can,” Penley said.

The action by the regents comes after lawmakers this year declined to take up legislation that would have accomplished the same thing, and also would have applied to community colleges.

A bill by Republican Sen. Heather Carter cleared the Senate when several Republicans joined all Democrats in support, but it never got a vote in the House.

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Peter Samore and The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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