ASSET bill becomes law – opens doors, raises questions

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Posted Tue, May 7, 2013

 Colorado legislators as he prepares to sign the ASSET Bill April 29 at MSU Denver before a crowd of hundreds.  The ASSET Bill grants Colorado's in-state tuition rate to undocumented immigrants who meet certain criteria. [Photo by Melanie Rice]

AT LAST: Colorado legislators watch on as Gov. John Hickenlooper prepares to sign the ASSET Bill April 29 at MSU Denver before a crowd of hundreds. The ASSET Bill grants Colorado’s in-state tuition rate to undocumented immigrants who meet certain criteria. [Photo by Melanie Rice]

DENVER – Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signed the ASSET Bill into law April 29, at MSU Denver before a crowd of hundreds. Senate Bill 13-033, also known as the ASSET Bill, opens doors to higher education for hundreds of undocumented Colorado residents and signifies a shift in the immigration policy debate, but raises some additional questions.

The bill was passed by the Colorado Legislature on March 8, after six previous failed attempts. It represents more than a decade of work by its backers from diverse backgrounds. The bill’s sponsors, Sen. Michael Johnston, D-Denver, Sen. Angela Giron, D-Pueblo, Rep. Angela Williams, D-Denver and Rep. Crisanta Duran, D-Denver addressed the enthusiastic crowd, who chanted, “Sí, se puede.”

The ASSET Bill will make the in-state tuition rate at Colorado public colleges and universities available to undocumented residents who meet certain criteria. To qualify, students need to have lived in Colorado for at least three years and either graduated from a Colorado high school or passed the GED. Additionally, students will be required to sign an affidavit indicating their good standing with the law and intention to seek lawful presence in the U.S.

Denver Public School’s 2010-2011 data indicated an overall graduation rate of just 56.1 percent, meaning that many local students may not qualify for this reduced tuition rate.

Before signing the bill, Hickenlooper reminded students they had to do the hard work.

A woman attending the signing of Colorado's ASSET Bill wipes tears from her eyes as Gov. Hickenlooper prepares to sign the bill at MSU Denver on April 29.  The bill will grant Colorado's in-state tuition rate to undocumented residents who meet certain criteria. Photo by Melanie J. Rice · mrice20@msudenver.edu

ANTICIPATION: A woman attending the signing of Colorado’s ASSET Bill wipes tears from her eyes as Gov. Hickenlooper prepares to sign the bill at MSU Denver on April 29. The bill will grant Colorado’s in-state tuition rate to undocumented residents who meet certain criteria. [Photo by Melanie J. Rice · mrice20@msudenver.edu]

“We’re opening the door – you guys are going to have to do all the work, right?” Hickenlooper said. “That’s the way the system works. So, we’re going to get you into class, you’re going to be given the opportunity, then your hard work is going to complete the transaction.”

MSU Denver’s role

After ASSET failed to pass in the Colorado Legislature for the sixth time in 2012, MSU Denver’s board of trustees voted 7 to 1 to create a special tuition rate for qualified undocumented residents beginning with the 2012-13 school year. Under this special rate, students paid tuition that was less than the out-of-state rate, but more than in-state tuition. Students were not eligible for financial aid or student loans and the program was not subsidized by public state or federal funds.

Not everyone was in favor of this step. Colorado Attorney General John Suthers questioned the legality of MSU Denver’s lowered tuition rate for undocumented residents. However, some legislators credited MSU Denver’s action as a stimulus toward passage of the ASSET bill.

“I always have to give my gratitude to Dr. Jordan because also that which he did in his leadership and support of this institution has made that easier for us to get the work done that we needed to get done,” Giron said.

President Stephen Jordan of MSU Denver described the school’s historic decision to allow in-state tuition for qualified undocumented residents after the bills sixth failure in the Colorado legislature in 2012.

“It has to do with the history of the institution. We were created from the west side Hispanic barrio to begin with,” Jordan said. “We were the first institution to come out eleven years ago in support of ASSET and until three years ago, still the only institution supporting it. We really believed in what these young people have to offer and that we were the kind of institution that ought to be providing those services.”

Jordan said MSU Denver’s prior experience with the special tuition rate has prepared the school to roll out the new rate in time for the fall 2013 semester. The school is awaiting guidance from the Attorney General’s office and a uniform affidavit, which is expected soon.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signs the ASSET Bill April 29 at MSU Denver before a crowd of hundreds.  The ASSET Bill grants Colorado's in-state tuition rate to undocumented immigrants who meet certain criteria.

ON THE DOTTED LINE: Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signs the ASSET Bill April 29 at MSU Denver before a crowd of hundreds. The ASSET Bill grants Colorado’s in-state tuition rate to undocumented immigrants who meet certain criteria. [Photo by Melanie Rice]

What it means for students and Coloradoans

Jossie Cordova, a youth leader with Padres Y Jóvenes Unidos, was excited by the ASSET Bill’s passage. After MSU Denver enacted their special tuition rate in 2012, Cordova enrolled in school, but said he had to drop out after his first semester because he could not afford the tuition. He plans to return to MSU Denver now that the ASSET Bill has passed.

Padres Y Jóvenes Unidos is a Denver organization that works for educational justice for all students, as well as other social justice issues. The group actively campaigned for passage of Colorado’s ASSET bill.

Other MSU Denver students welcomed the change.

“It sounds like a great thing to me,” said MSU Denver student Mavi Graves. “I feel like immigration in general needs to be overhauled. I think that if you’ve been here, if you went to high school here, then you’re effectively a resident and you deserve to be treated like anybody else who went to high school in the state or spent three years in the state and is now a resident. I support it.”

Hickenlooper said Colorado will benefit from an educated workforce. But, critics of the legislation say it may be difficult for students to find jobs after graduation due to their undocumented status.

“We don’t have enough educated workers in the state. We end up having to import all these workers,” Hickenlooper said. “I hope that it means more jobs for more Coloradans, right? More skilled, higher paid jobs.”

The bigger picture

Indicative of a growing trend, in April 2013, Colorado and Oregon joined other states that allow undocumented residents to receive in-state tuition. The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) listed 12 states as of July 2012 that provided in-state tuition to qualified undocumented residents.

However, not all states share this view. The NCSL noted that several states prohibit undocumented students from receiving either in-state tuition or any other type of financial aid.

The bill’s passage illustrates the significance of immigration reform in public discussion at both state and national levels.

A large crowd gathers in anticipation of Gov. Hickenlooper's signing of the ASSET Bill April 29 at MSU Denver.  The ASSET Bill will allow undocumented residents who meet certain criteria to receive the in-state tuition rate at Colorado colleges and universities. Photo by Melanie J. Rice mrice20@msudenver.edu

WALL-TO-WALL: A large crowd gathers in anticipation of Gov. John Hickenlooper’s signing of the ASSET Bill April 29 at MSU Denver. The ASSET Bill will allow undocumented residents who meet certain criteria to receive the in-state tuition rate at Colorado colleges and universities. [Photo by Melanie J. Rice mrice20@msudenver.edu]

“This first step is going to be the first step to national immigration reform,” Hickenlooper said, amidst screams from the crowd.

Jordan said MSU Denver is considered a model for other institutions by the Federal Department of Education and that MSU Denver’s lead role is a factor in the larger immigration discussion.

Others raised the issue of affordable higher education for all Americans, asking how students will pay for college.

“How do we make higher ed affordable for everybody?” said Ricardo Martinez, co-director at Padres Y Jóvenes Unidos in Denver. “For us, it’s an ongoing thing: how do we make sure that university education is affordable for all students?”

About Melanie J. Rice

Melanie Rice is a journalism student at MSU Denver, with an emphasis on both visual and written content.

View all posts by Melanie J. Rice

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