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UC Tuition Break OKd for Some Immigrants

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TIMES EDUCATION WRITER

In a vote closely watched by advocates for immigrant rights, University of California regents voted Thursday to allow undocumented immigrants with proven California ties to pay the same tuition as other California residents.

The 17-5 vote was contingent on the state Legislature helping to shield UC from liability if legal challenges arise.

The decision would bring the university in line with a new state law that allows such students to pay the lower in-state fees at the Cal State system and the state’s community colleges. UC policy is not controlled directly by Sacramento.

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The decision by UC, the state’s most prestigious public university system, was considered especially symbolic. Supporters said the vote, together with the law (AB 540) that prompted it, marked a milestone in the state’s political shift toward granting rights to undocumented immigrants after a more hostile era in the early 1990s.

Under the new policy, immigrant students who have lived in California for at least three years, are California high school graduates and have applied for legal status would be eligible for the much lower in-state tuition. In-state students now pay an average of $3,859 while out-of-state and international students pay an average of $14,933, UC officials said.

Also eligible for the lower tuition would be non-immigrant students from out of state who have lived in California at least three years and graduated from high schools in the state.

UC officials said 300 to 400 students now enrolled at the university’s eight undergraduate campuses would be eligible for the tuition savings, with fewer than half of those undocumented. Based on those figures, the cost of the change is estimated at $3 million to $4 million a year.

University officials said they could not predict how many students ultimately might be affected by the new policy, noting that many who might not previously have applied might now do so.

Several experts noted the significance of the state’s political shift since 1994, when voters approved Proposition 187, which sought to deny education in California public schools to undocumented children. Much of the measure was thrown out by the courts.

“It’s an incredible change, the result of demographic and political change in the state, along with a new dose of common sense,” said Mark Silverman, director of immigrant policy for an immigrant legal resources center in San Francisco.

Young, undocumented immigrants and supporters urged regents to approve the new policy and later celebrated the victory.

Gwen Corona, 20, a high school graduate who works as an ambulance dispatcher in Bakersfield, said she had dreamed of attending a UC school but did not apply despite a 3.8 high school GPA and good test scores; it was out of reach financially, she said. She did apply and was accepted to Cal State Bakersfield but did not enroll because she could not afford the out-of-state fees there either.

“I’m thinking of myself but also other kids in my situation,” said Corona, who supports her disabled mother and three younger sisters. “If we don’t have the opportunity for education, we’ll just be reliving our parents’ situations.”

The majority of the undocumented students, about 56%, are from Asian nations, with Latinos representing about 12% and other ethnicities the remainder, officials said.

The regents made their approval contingent on the Legislature passing an amendment to the Cal State and community college bill, aimed at limiting UC’s liability in case of lawsuits by out-of-state students not eligible for the tuition break. That amendment was introduced Thursday, said an aide to Assemblyman Marco Firebaugh (D-Los Angeles), the bill’s sponsor.

Juan Torres, Firebaugh’s legislative director who attended the meeting, said the amendment appeared to have strong bipartisan support and if passed and signed by the governor, could take effect in time to allow next fall’s freshman class to pay the lower costs.

Several regents who voted against the change, including Board of Regents Chairwoman Sue Johnson, said they were concerned about liability. But some also had philosophical differences with the idea of extending the tuition benefit to undocumented immigrants while denying it to U.S. citizens who live out of state.

Regent Ward Connerly said he sympathized with the plight of students brought to the United States by their parents who sought to attend UC. But he said he voted against the measure because he did not consider three years of residency a sufficient period to justify the tuition break. “I feel we’ve really got to take care of Americans first and Californians first,” he said.

UC General Counsel James Holst said this would not be the first time that undocumented immigrants have been allowed to pay the lower tuition. After a 1985 court ruling, the university was required for five years to give such students the in-state tuition. That policy ended after a court appeal reversed the earlier decision.

Also Thursday, the regents, as expected, gave final approval to development plans and other items that will allow the university to proceed with its plans to build a new campus near Merced. Largely without discussion, the regents certified an environmental impact report and initial construction plans for the 2000-acre campus.


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