Prop 308 asks Arizona voters to decide on in-state tuition for undocumented students
PHOENIX — Maria Dominguez was just a few months old when her parents brought her to Arizona from Mexico. She’s now a senior at Carl Hayden High School and is getting ready to go to college.
“I grew up here my entire life,” Dominguez said. “But I don’t meet the in-state tuition criteria, so I’d be paying out-of-state tuition, which is very expensive.”
Proposition 308 would change that. It would let students regardless of their immigration status pay in-state tuition and qualify for state financial aid. They must attend an Arizona high school or the home school equivalent for at least two years and graduate to qualify.
At least 19 states already offer in-state tuition to undocumented students. Arizona used to do the same until voters passed a ballot measure in 2006 to prohibit that.
Supporters say this would make college more attainable for tens of thousands of undocumented students who grew up in Arizona. Opponents argue in-state tuition and state financial aid are benefits that should only be made available to students with a legal status.
Prop 308 was referred to the Nov. 8 ballot by the Arizona State Legislature. State Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita was among the Republicans who voted against it, saying it is unfair to provide benefits to undocumented students.
“This is a population that is here obviously illegally,” said Ugenti-Rita said. “To grant them a consideration, special treatment, a discount flies in the face of our rule of law and order.”
Reyna Montoya, founder and CEO of the community organization Aliento, lobbied for legislation to get Prop 308 on the ballot.
She pointed out about 2,000 undocumented students graduate from Arizona high schools every year, and the state has already invested in their K-12 education.
“It’s really smart from an Arizona perspective to allow them to pay it forward,” she said. “When they graduate with a four-year-degree from one of our state universities, they will be able to do a return of investment of over $600,000.”
Montoya added having more undocumented students go on to college will help reach the statewide goal of having 60% of adults ages 25-64 hold a college degree or certificate by 2030. Currently, that stands at 46%.
Students currently pay $85 per credit for in-state tuition to attend one of the Maricopa Community Colleges. For out-of-state students it’s $326 per credit.
At the three state universities, in-state undergraduate tuition is nearly $11,000 and about $30,000 for out-of-state undergraduate tuition.
Montoya argued it’s very difficult for undocumented students to pay for college, especially when financial aid available to them is very limited.
Ugenti-Rita said she sympathizes with undocumented students.
“My heart breaks to think about this population and what they’ve been through, but that doesn’t negate the reality, which is they are here illegally,” she said. “Until that is addressed, this is just a distraction, and it won’t solve the problem.”
As high school graduation nears for Dominguez, she continues to look for scholarships that don’t require a social security number.
She said her parents don’t make enough money to be able to help her pay for college. Her mom is a house cleaner, and her dad doesn’t have a steady job.
Dominguez said she is hopeful voters will approve Prop 308, which she said would make it possible for her to go to college and become a neurologist.
“Seeking higher education shouldn’t be something that you find obstacles in just because of financial issues or your status,” she said.