This is the year tuition equity passes. Or so many on the University of Oregon campus hope.
One student, Liz Avalos is especially hopeful after witnessing the overwhelming support for the bill at last Wednesday’s legislative hearing in Salem.
“It was just a mix of emotions because I have friends in similar situations,” said Avalos, MEChA’s internal director.
Avalos and a group of around 20 students from MECha, the Oregon Student Association and Oregon Students of Color Coalition attended the hearing. No one in the group testified, but went to show support and pass out tuition equity-themed valentines to representatives and senators.
If approved, the tuition equity bill will allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition as opposed to the international rates that are currently applied to them. In order to be eligible, students are required to have studied in the U.S. for at least five years, attended an Oregon high school for a minimum of three years, graduated and be actively working towards citizenship.
“Tuition equity is not a handout. The bill doesn’t qualify them for state or federal aid,” Avalos said.
Gabriella Morrongiello, an Oregon State University student from California, argued that approving the bill would result in a class-action lawsuit seeking compensation for nonresidents. Morrongiello said that the bill would cause a dramatic increase in the number of people enrolled in Oregon universities and that out-of-state students will be expected to shoulder costs. Those in opposition of the bill complained that they weren’t given enough time to speak.
“For her to say it’s not fair, she chose to go out of state,” said Avalos. “These (undocumented) students are choosing to go to university in their own home state.”
For those interested in attending the University of Oregon, this could make a difference of around $19,395 annually based on the estimated amounts of in-state and nonresident/international tuition for the 2012-13 school year that are listed on the financial aid and scholarships website.
“Every year it’s been getting closer and closer to being passed. This year it’ll be passed in the Senate and House. At least, we hope,” Avalos said.
According to The Oregonian, over 300 people attended the hearing, the majority being supporters of the bill. Avalos said that during the hearing, attendees were separated into different rooms so she didn’t realize how many people (predominantly students) had shown up until everyone went outside to take a group picture.
“Honestly, it should’ve been done 10 years ago. It’s important because right now we’re denying access to students to have a more formal education, and that shouldn’t be the case,” said ASUO senator Lamar Wise.
Wise, former ASUO president Sam Dotters-Katz and several groups including MEChA authored a tuition equity resolution that University Senate will likely vote on sometime this week. According to Wise, in addition to students, a number of faculty members and President Gottfredson are among tuition equity supporters.
“Many people look at tuition equity as granting a privilege to undocumented students. For me, these folks are our equals, so this is not an issue of granting a privilege, it’s about the fact that right now we are withholding a right. This is about equality,” said Dotters-Katz.
Other supporters at the hearing also highlighted the economic benefits of the bill. Betsy Earls, vice president and counsel of Associated Oregon Industries said that the bill would allow businesses to hire locals instead of relying on the out-of-state hiring some companies are currently doing.
“I think that the state of Oregon has already invested a lot of time and money into these students and we should continue with our investments so they can go to college, and after college they can continue to contribute to our society and our community, and the state of Oregon,” said Wise.
Avalos said that beyond economics, the issue isn’t about specific people, but rather a situation they happen to be in. She stressed that many of the students were brought to the U.S. at such a young age that this is the only life and culture they identify with.
“These kids know these country as their own. Just because they don’t have a birth certificate doesn’t make them different,” Avalos said.