Bill to lower tuition for DACA students introduced into Arizona Legislature

Senate Bill 1217 would give DACA recipients and undocumented students a lower tuition rate

Under a bill recently introduced by the Arizona Legislature, students who are protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals could receive reduced tuition, along with undocumented students who do not receive DACA benefits.

Senate Bill 1217 was drafted by both Democrats and Republicans and would allow the Arizona Board of Regents to determine a new tuition rate for anyone who graduates from an Arizona high school.

This would provide some financial relief for DACA students who, thanks to an Arizona Supreme Court ruling from last year, are no longer eligible to receive in-state tuition. 

The bill states that anyone who applies to a university under the jurisdiction of ABOR, and has graduated from an Arizona high school no more than twelve years ago at the time of applying, is entitled to receive the Arizona high school graduate tuition rate as determined by ABOR.

According to the bill, this new rate would expire in 2021. However, state Sen. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, who led the effort to introduce the bill, is working on an amendment to remove this expiration date.

This bill would also affect undocumented students at ASU who don't have the protections that DACA recipients receive, including the ability to obtain a driver's license, work permit and temporary relief from deportation. 

Karina Dominguez, a junior majoring in sustainability and the communications director for Undocumented Students for Education Equity at ASU, is not a DACA recipient, but said she wants people to know this bill benefits people like her too.

Dominguez, an undocumented student, said that SB 1217 would make it easier for her family to pay for her education, a challenge that is made even harder because she is ineligible for most scholarships.

“This bill is so important because it does include undocumented students as well as DACA students,” she said. “We’re seeing more undocumented students and more students who can’t afford out-of-state tuition, so this bill protects everyone.” 

Sarah Harper, a spokesperson for ABOR, said that the bill has not yet been discussed by the board, but that the board currently has policy in place, called the Non-Resident Tuition Rate for Arizona High School Graduates, to help reduce tuition for Arizona high school graduates who don't qualify for in-state tuition.

The policy, which was implemented in 2015, states that “a student who graduated from an Arizona high school, but who is not otherwise eligible for resident tuition status, is eligible for a nonresident undergraduate tuition rate of 150 percent of undergraduate resident tuition,” as long as two conditions are met. 

The conditions include being “lawfully present in Arizona" and having graduated from an Arizona high school after attending for at least three years while being physically present in the state. 

DACA students are considered “lawfully present,” Harper said.

Edward Vargas, an assistant professor with the School of Transborder Studies, said that the “most interesting thing about this bill is that it creates change without changing previous legislation.” 

Proposition 300, which was passed in 2006, disqualifies undocumented students as well as those who benefit from DACA from receiving in-state tuition. Vargas said that SB 1217 would allow the Board of Regents to lower tuition for DACA students without violating the previous rule.

The bill has bipartisan support, with two of the five sponsors of the bill being Republicans and the remaining three being Democrats.

Carter said in an interview with the Arizona Capitol Times that she envisions a rate of tuition that is lower than out-of-state tuition, but still higher than the in-state rate. 

“If a student has been educated in our Arizona K-12 system, it makes perfect sense for us to support and encourage them to continue their education,” she said in the interview. 

Carter also told the Capitol Times that she believes the bill aligns with ASU’s vision for “universal learning.”   

Vargas said he believes the bipartisan support for the bill comes as a response to previous pushes for education reform in Arizona. 

“This is a spillover from the #RedForEd movement. It’s a continuation from these teachers who walked out,” he said. “There is a strong connection between these teachers walking out at the K-12 level and these people wanting to see the fruits of their labor be able to succeed in higher education.”

Lowering tuition for these students would also have benefits beyond solely financial ones, Dominguez said.

“I graduated in the top 1 percent from high school, and the other people who did that with me don't have to worry about keeping their spot in school,” she said. “I knew I was trying just as hard as them and I should be I the same position as them, but I’m not.”

Representatives from the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce declined to comment on the bill due to time constraints.

On campus, the University provides several resources for DACA students, such as DREAMZone, which helps immigrant students at ASU find on-campus and online help. 

There are also student communities on campus such as Undocumented Students for Education Equity at ASU that provide a community for DACA students.

“All of us are just trying to give back,” Dominguez said. “Banning us from things like a lower tuition doesn’t help anyone.”

Reach the reporter at or follow @KatieFusillo on Twitter. 

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