For some local undocumented youths who have long wished to pursue a college degree, but never thought they could afford to do so, the dream has now become a little more tangible. On Wednesday night, the Governing Board of Pima Community College agreed to dramatically cut tuition costs for young undocumented immigrants accepted into the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program who can prove residence in the state for at least one year. The cost to attend PCC full time for these individuals will now be cut from approximately $9,000 annually to $2,000. The change will go into effect for the fall 2013 semester.
For undocumented youth throughout the United States, the issue of receiving in-state college tuition has long been a particularly important one, as for even many of the best and brightest students, the lack of legal residency can be an impossible financial roadblock to the pursuit of higher education. Currently, just 12 states have programs in place to allow undocumented immigrants who meet certain criteria to apply for in-state tuition. Six states, including Arizona, have passed legislation officially barring undocumented students at public colleges and universities from receiving this benefit.
In November, 2006, voters in Arizona approved Proposition 300, a referendum stating that all individuals in the state who are not legal permanent residents or U.S. citizens are ineligible for financial aid and in-state tuition. It was the Obama administration’s introduction of the Deferred Action program that opened the door for PCC to change course from Prop 300 and begin offering these benefits to some students.
Proponents of in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants argue that by offering these individuals the opportunity to attend college, it benefits not just the students themselves, but the state as a whole. The cost to the state is negligible, and the discounted tuition that this population pays in tuition can be a financial boon to the school. In addition, increasing the number of college educated workers in the state is crucial to maintaining a strong Arizona economy.
However, the issue inevitably has its detractors, as well. The main argument against offering in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants is that such an act violates the limits our country has imposed on the rights of non-citizens. In addition, opponents also argue that it is potentially detrimental to U.S. citizens to have to compete with non-citizens for college admittance and financial aid.
PCC is the second community college in Arizona to offer in-state tuition to undocumented students. Maricopa County Community College has already made the move. The University of Arizona and other state universities continue to deny in-state tuition to unauthorized residents.