AG: no lower tuition for undocumented students

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DENVER -- Republican Attorney General John Suthers issued a formal opinion Tuesday afternoon that Metro State College of Denver cannot legally create a new, lower category of tuition for undocumented students.

The school's Board of Trustees voted 7-1 earlier this month to do just that, reigniting the debate over tuition equity just a couple of months after state lawmakers again killed a bill that aimed to make college more affordable for qualifying illegal immigrants.

Suthers' opinion comes roughly a week before Metro's application deadline for the fall 2012 semester, when the new tuition rate was set to go into effect.

“After carefully reviewing the state and federal law in this area, my office has concluded that Colorado’s state-supported higher-education institutions cannot create discounted tuition categories for students who are unable to prove their lawful presence in the United States,” Suthers said.

“Although federal law allows state legislatures to pass statutes affirmatively providing tuition benefits to undocumented students, the General Assembly has repeatedly declined to legislate in this area.”

Suthers was traveling Tuesday and not available for further comment, according to staffer David Blake.

Metropolitan State College of Denver Board of Trustees statement regarding Colorado Attorney General formal opinion:

When Metro State’s Board of Trustees voted to approve the Colorado High School/GED Nonresident Tuition rate earlier this month, we reviewed current state statute and deemed this as a legitimate policy within the Trustees’ authority based on:

1)      The structure of nonresident tuition rates by state higher education institutions are not required to be authorized by the state legislature; and

2)      This nonresident tuition rate contained no state subsidy.

It was the Board of Trustees and Metro State’s administration intent to enhance our role and mission and provide access and affordability to all of Colorado’s high school students.  It was never our intent to disregard Colorado’s law or its legislature, and we do not believe we have done this. 

Other Colorado higher education institutions have been waiting for Suthers' opinion; and some were likely -- had he ruled that Metro State acted within the boundaries of the law -- to follow suit.

Specifically, the University of Colorado's Board of Trustees, which voted 5-4 to support the ASSET legislation earlier this year, was likely to consider a similar tuition category for undocumented students.

In Suthers' view, only the legislature can create a new category of tuition to benefit undocumented students.

“The General Assembly may continue to consider this issue,” Attorney General Suthers said. “In the meantime, however, state-supported institutions of higher education in Colorado cannot act unilaterally. Under federal law they must await a decision by the legislature. I am disappointed Metro State decided to proceed in this manner without consulting our office.”

Metro State's President, Dr. Stephen Jordan, and Trustee Melody Harris are set to meet Wednesday afternoon with the Joint Budget Committee at the Capitol after Chairwoman Cheri Gerou requested a meeting to determine how the school decided to move ahead with its proposal.

"My goal is not to make this any more political than it already is," said Gerou Tuesday. "I just want to find out what Metro's thought process was, why they decided to do this, because they never hinted they were going down this road when they presented to us before."