Higher Ed Board unanimously supports Tuition Equity Bill

The Oregon State Board of Higher Education unanimously passed a resolution in support of Senate Bill 742 (SB242) during its March 4 meeting.

The Oregon State Board of Higher Education unanimously passed a resolution in support of Senate Bill 742 (SB242) during its March 4 meeting.

SB742, also known as the Tuition Equity Bill, passed through the Oregon State Senate Education Committee in mid March by a 4 to 1 vote. As reported by The Oregonian, Senator Larry George cast the only opposing vote, citing concerns about funding.

Senators Frank Morse,  Suzanne Bonamici, Mark Hass and Chip Shields voted in favor of the bill, which is currently before the Oregon State Senate.

SB742 could be voted on by the Oregon State Senate as early as this week, according to Diane Saunders, Oregon University System director of communications.

“I have been more optimistic about the reaction [to the bill] because of the positive editorials recently published which have so clearly laid out the need to address Oregon’s changing demographics and the need to have an educational system and net that includes all students in Oregon and works in diverse ways to ensure we have a skilled, educated work force here,” Saunders said.

SB742 would allow technically undocumented students who have attended part of their K–12 education in Oregon to pay in-state tuition at Oregon universities. According to proponents of the bill, this would make it financially feasible for more of the children of undocumented immigrants in Oregon to attend college.

Proponents of the bill argue that undocumented students who have attended Oregon’s K–12 schools and intend to work toward gaining legal United States residency status should have the opportunity to continue their education while doing so.

“This is legislation that Oregon students overwhelmingly support and have found allies with the support of all seven university presidents as well,” said Marcus Sis, director of legislative affairs for ASPSU.

Students have been greatly involved in the debate surrounding tuition equity legislation. Members of ASPSU traveled to Salem to attend hearings on this and other education related legislation in early March, according to Sis. ASPSU also held a town hall meeting earlier this month to educate students on current higher education-related bills such as SB742.

Currently, undocumented students—even if they have attended Oregon schools for most of their education—must pay out-of-state tuition at Oregon universities. This can be a heavy financial burden because these students are not eligible for financial aid.

But even if the Tuition Equity Bill is passed, undocumented students would still be ineligble for financial aid, such as the Oregon Opportunity Grant or the Pell Grant, according to the Oregon University System’s SB742 Legislative Issue Brief.

Students would qualify for in-state tuition under SB742 if they attend elementary or secondary school for at least three years before receiving a diploma and if they intend to become citizens or lawful permanent residents of the U.S. Students could pay in-state tuition for up to five years after they enroll at a university.

Opponents, such as George, have expressed concern over the financial aspects of such a bill in the current economic climate.

Opponents of the bill have also voiced their worries in The Oregonian and at the public hearing earlier this month.

“We all need to help one another understand the changes taking place in our state in ways which leave anger and rhetoric behind and speak to benefits for all Oregonians,” Saunders said. “That isn’t always a quick process and all sides need to be patient and listen to one another so we understand the concerns people have and can address those.”

According to the OUS issue brief, if the bill passed, the university system would experience a net revenue gain of $23,490 between 2011–13 and $608,013 between 2013–15.

The bill is based on the national Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, which was recently voted down by the U.S. Legislature. The DREAM Act attempted to clarify the immigration status and barriers to education and work for children of undocumented immigrants.

The DREAM Act would have granted temporary residency to children of undocumented immigrants who met certain conditions. It would also have allowed them to receive financial aid through student loans and work-study programs.

Many states, including California, Washington and New York, have passed tuition equity legislation similar to Oregon’s Tuition Equity Bill, according to the OUS issue brief. Other states, such as Maryland, are currently considering passing such legislation. ?