GLENWOOD SPRINGS - Colorado Mountain College's board of trustees voted unanimously Thursday to lend the college's support to an immigrant student tuition bill that's currently working its way through the Colorado Legislature.
The move came after members of the local student group, Association of Youth United in Action (AJUA), asked the CMC board at its regular meeting on Monday to support the so-called ASSET bill (Senate Bill 33).
ASSET (Advancing Students for a Stronger Economy Tomorrow) would extend eligibility for in-state college tuition rates to undocumented students who attend Colorado high schools for three years and graduate.
CMC trustees indicated at the Monday meeting that they were sympathetic to AJUA's request, but wanted to put the question on a future agenda and have a formal discussion first. A special teleconference meeting of the trustees on Thursday on another matter provided that opportunity.
"This is ultimately about giving students a better opportunity to succeed ... and is a continuation of the American Dream," CMC Board President Glenn Davis said. "We owe it to these students to support a bill that gives them that opportunity to get ahead, and to develop a better life for themselves and their family."
CMC Trustee Pat Chlouber said she has wrestled with the question of providing resident privileges to undocumented immigrant students.
"No amount of arm-twisting on the issue is as compelling as when these students spoke to us about how this issue has affected their lives directly," Chlouber said of the AJUA student
The CMC board voted 5-0, with board member Mary Ellen Denomy absent.
AJUA member Junior Ortega of Rifle was listening in on Thursday's meeting and thanked the trustees for their support of the bill.
"CMC reaches a large segment of Latino students," Ortega said, noting that the Latino student population exceeds 50 percent in many public school districts within CMC's six-county taxing district.
"We would like to be able to work with CMC to encourage more of these students to come to CMC," he said.
SB 33, if passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. John Hickenlooper, would grant the in-state tuition rate to any high school graduate who has attended a Colorado high school for three years, regardless of immigration status.
Many students, including several of the AJUA members who have been active on immigration issues in recent years, came to the United States with their undocumented parents at a young age and have grown up here.
The ASSET bill and other previous attempts at immigrant student tuition bills have failed to make it out of the state Legislature. But this year's bill has strong bipartisan support and is expected to pass, said John Giardino, CMC's state legislative lobbyist.
The bill passed out of the Senate Education Committee with little opposition, and is now scheduled before the Senate Appropriations Committee, said Giardino, who also participated in the Thursday meeting.
College trustees asked Giardino to testify in support of the bill on the college's behalf, and possibly invite some AJUA members to testify as well.
CMC Trustee Ken Brenner noted that it's significant that the ASSET bill is being considered at the same time that Congress seems more willing than ever to consider comprehensive immigration reform on a national level.
"This is certainly something that will help a lot of Latinos who have been attending school in our district to go on and pursue higher education," Brenner said. "It's an exciting time, and I wish our Latino population nothing but success."
One question CMC officials would need to address if the ASSET bill passes is whether to extend its lower in-district tuition rate to students who graduate from high schools within the district. The bill, as worded, only addresses in-state tuition.
CMC is one of two special community college districts in Colorado. In-district students taking first- or second-year classes currently pay $56 per credit hour, as opposed to $95 for students from elsewhere in Colorado and $299 for out-of-state students.