3850 college students denied
Nearly 4,000 students at Arizona universities and community colleges have been denied in-state tuition this year because they failed to prove they were legal residents. The largest share is at the community colleges.
Arizona universities and colleges recently began requiring students to prove their citizenship after state voters passed Proposition 300, a ballot initiative that prevents undocumented students from getting in-state tuition and state-funded financial aid.
Undocumented students can still attend colleges and universities, but they must pay out-of-state tuition. At many schools, the out-of-state prices are more than triple the in-state tuition.
Maricopa Community Colleges, the state's largest community college district, had the most students whose legal status was unverified, according to a recent report to the state's Joint Legislative Budget Committee. The report shows 1,720 students were ineligible for in-state tuition. Of those, 145 were denied state financial aid. The district has nearly 111,443 in-state students. Arizona State University reported 207 students were ineligible for in-state tuition, while University of Arizona reported 119 and Northern Arizona University reported 20.
College officials are still grappling with the impact of Proposition 300. Some of the effects are hard to measure because officials have no way of knowing how many students will drop out or will be discouraged from going to college by the higher prices.
"It's always difficult for us to make any definitive statement about people who aren't here," said Steve Helfgot, Maricopa Community Colleges vice chancellor for student and community affairs.
Helfgot said some unverified students are likely taking fewer courses each semester because they have to pay more for tuition.
Some colleges in the 10-college Maricopa system reported a drop in enrollment this fall that could be attributed, in part, to Proposition 300, Helfgot said. That theory is difficult to prove, however, because some colleges had already seen enrollment declines before Proposition 300. Mesa Community College has experienced sharp enrollment declines this fall in English as a Second Language courses that could be attributed to the new law.
Helfgot said college officials are trying to get the message out that undocumented students can still attend, although they will pay more.
"Does this (Proposition 300) create an added financial burden? Yes, it certainly does," Helfgot said. "Does it keep them out of school per se? No, it does not."
Arizona voters approved Proposition 300 by a wide margin more than a year ago amid growing anger over illegal immigration. Supporters, including former state Sen. Dean Martin, said state taxpayers shouldn't subsidize college tuition and financial aid for people who are in the country illegally.
Some college officials say the latest figures show unverified students make up only a small percentage of the student body.
Pima Community College in Tucson reported 1,214 students whose legal status was unable to be verified out of nearly 52,000 in-state students. College spokesman David Irwin pointed out that the 1,214 include students who didn't bother to complete the process to prove their legal residency, so "we don't really know their status."
"The widespread concern that potentially large numbers of students were receiving in-state status illegally has not been borne out by the facts," Irwin said.
State Rep. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, said the total figure of nearly 4,000 reported by the colleges and universities is "too low to be believable," and he plans to request an audit.
"They've been fostering this for years, giving them grants and scholarships, and have bragged about 'we don't care where they come from.' I know there are some goodhearted people, but it's the law," he said.
University officials say they have been following the law.
At the University of Arizona, officials say they are aware that some students have dropped out because out-of-state tuition is too expensive for them, although they are unsure how many. Out-of-state tuition and fees at the UA total $16,271 this year, more than triple the $5,037 in-state price. Some students who applied to UA never followed through because they mistakenly feared that the university would share their undocumented status with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, said Paul Kohn, the UA's vice provost for enrollment management.
Kohn said some young people in Arizona, who were brought to the United States illegally years ago, have spent their lives preparing for college and now find the cost beyond their reach.
"It's so contrary to wanting to cultivate an educated workforce," Kohn said.
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