In California for years but still can’t qualify for in-state tuition

By Zaeem Shaikh, CalMatters

Being a California resident can save you a lot of money at the University of California – around $30,000 in tuition per year.

At California State University, a nonresident student pays nearly $10,000 more than a California resident with the same 12-unit course load; at a community college, it can go up to around $7,500.

For more than 20 years, California has exempted many undocumented students from paying nonresident tuition at public colleges and universities in the state. But loopholes in the law mean some undocumented students and visa holders are still not eligible for in-state pricing, even if they have lived in the state for more than a decade.

Now, state lawmakers are debating two bills that would allow even more students to become eligible for in-state tuition. UC and Cal State could lose millions in revenue if either or both bills pass. But supporters say the bills would narrow equity gaps and increase access to affordable higher education — especially critical, they say, when the state is enjoying a record budget surplus and students are recovering. of a global pandemic.

Take the case of Sakshi Savale, a senior at San Jose State University. She didn’t have many options to choose from when she applied to college. Savale arrived in California in 2009, two years after her family immigrated to the United States from India.

California law allows undocumented immigrants and certain others without legal California residency to be exempt from paying out-of-state tuition if they have attended a high school, community college, or school for three years. California adults and have graduated. Students eligible for the exemption may also qualify for the Cal Grant, the state’s main form of financial aid.

But Savale was not undocumented. She held a dependent visa, which meant that her stay in the United States depended on her father, a business consultant, who had a work-related visa. While many colleges considered her an international student, San Jose State allowed her to pay in-state tuition, saving her family tens of thousands of dollars. That changed this school year, however, after Savale turned 21 and had to switch to a student visa. Now the university says it has an arrears of about $1,500 in fall tuition that it must pay before it can graduate.

“Now I’m about to graduate and this could prevent me from graduating, and it’s been extremely stressful,” said Savale, who hopes to stay at San Jose State for graduate school.

Senate Bill 1160, drafted by Los Angeles Democrat María Elena Durazo, would help students like Savale by allowing students whose parents have certain long-term U.S. visas to qualify for in-state tuition. if they meet other legal requirements.

At an April Senate Education Committee hearing, members said a pathway should be provided for students who have been in the state for a long time, but some raised concerns that wealthy foreigners benefit from the bill. Savale and other visa holders organizing with a group called Improve the Dream nonetheless say they should be included.

“Some visa holders – they generally had better benefits and access to resources, both in terms of income, education, status,” said Adrián Trinidad, higher education researcher and deputy director of partnerships with the University of Southern California Community Colleges. Race and Equity Center. Still, he said, it makes sense to grant in-state tuition to students who have been part of California for years and will continue to contribute to the state’s economy.

Another bill, Senate Bill 1141, would reduce from three to two the number of years that undocumented students or others without legal California residency must take high school or graduate courses in state in order to qualify for in-state tuition. Written by State Senator Monique Limón, a Democrat from Santa Barbara, it is co-sponsored by California Community Colleges and Immigrants Rising, which advocates for undocumented students.

The Senate Appropriations Committee will decide the fate of the two bills on Thursday, along with hundreds of others on the committee’s pending docket.

Cal State and University of California officials did not express a position on the bills. Tuition for nonresidents makes up about 13% of UC’s budget, according to the California Legislative Analyst’s Office.

SB 1141 would likely increase costs to the state because it would allow newly eligible students to apply for the Cal grant. Sen. Brian Dahle, a Lassen County Republican, raised a concern during an Education Committee hearing in March that there are a finite number of Cal grants available. “There is not enough money for everyone,” he said.

The state, however, has enough extra money in its budget this year to offset much of the immediate cost, Trinidad said. “The surplus has been so strong, I think it’s more a question of whether people think (the affordability of college education for these students) is a problem,” he said.

Lowering the attendance requirement to two years could entice more potential students to attend community colleges across the state, which are facing declining enrollment, said David O’Brien, vice chancellor for Government Relations of the Office of the Chancellor of California Community Colleges.

“We think this fills a really critical gap in access, especially for undocumented higher education students in California who have been locked out,” O’Brien said.

The bill would also remove a provision requiring eligible community college students to enroll in non-credit courses to meet the attendance requirement, which some students say causes them to waste time in courses that do not. not help them progress to a degree.

Limón said the bill could help up to 900 students immediately, and supporters of the bill believe the long-term impact would be much greater. Undocumented students are ineligible for federal student aid, making access to state aid and lower tuition critical.

“There are thousands of students who would be eligible,” said Nancy Jodaitis, director of higher education at Immigrants Rising.

Esther Ugwuezumba, an undocumented student at El Camino College whose family is originally from Nigeria, applied for in-state tuition last winter but was not approved, she said. As a high school graduate who attended school in California for two years, she would qualify under the bill.

His mother foots the bill for his tuition by working two jobs, as a caregiver and certified nursing assistant at a hospital. Ugwuezumba, who specializes in nursing, also works as a caregiver to help cover the costs. The family will soon also have to pay more fees when Ugwuezumba’s brother begins attending California State University this summer.

If Ugwuezumba’s application for in-state tuition is approved, she says, “it will take a lot of the pressure off my mother.”

Shaikh is a member of the CalMatters College Journalism Network, a collaboration between CalMatters and student journalists across California. This story and other articles on higher education are supported by the College Futures Foundation.

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