The Senate education committee Thursday afternoon passed a bill that would allow Oregon students brought to the country illegally to pay in-state tuition.
Senate Bill 742 would allow undocumented high school seniors who’ve lived in Oregon the last three years to pay in-state tuition at the state’s seven public universities. They now must pay out-of-state tuition, which is three times higher and a barrier to most of them.
Sen. Larry George, R- Sherwood, cast the only vote against the measure. He said the proposal addresses a compelling justice issue, but he is concerned it would cost the state money.
“We are cutting school days, we can’t fund full-day kindergarten,” he said, “and then we’re passing something that will put an additional burden on the higher education system.”
Sen. Frank Morse, R-Albany, said he could not hold children responsible for being brought to this country illegally by their parents. It is in the interest of the state to let undocumented youth “improve our country by improving their lives,” he said. “For me it is an issue of what will make Oregon better.”
Sen. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Beaverton, said if the students are charged out-of-state tuition, they won’t go to college, and the state will lose out on their contributions to society and the economy.
Before passing the bill Thursday, the Senate committee approved two amendments to it. One would require undocumented students seeking in-state tuition to sign an affidavit saying they have filed or will file an application for citizenship. The other requires them to have been in the country five years and in Oregon the last three.
The vote was met with a smattering of applause from some in the audience, glares of outrage from others.
“We have a pathetic bunch of people in charge,” fumed Mary Mayer, of Beaverton, who watched the vote. She was angry that Sen. Mark Hass, D-Beaverton, chair of the committee, didn’t allow public testimony. She said opponents to the bill have been ignored.
“These are people here illegally,” Mayer said. “The government has not kept these people out of our country. Now they’re saying Oregon taxpayers are going to pay for them.”
Hass noted after the meeting that in an emotional two-hour public hearing two weeks ago, the committee gave everyone interested in speaking a chance to do so. Opponents at that hearingargued the bill would reward students breaking the law at the expense of Americans here legally.
Vicki Falcon, a senior education major at Western Oregon University, said after the Thursday vote that she knows lots of young students who would be able to attend college if they could pay the less expensive in-state tuition.
“A lot of them are really intelligent,” Falcon said. “They’re part of the community. Why not be contributing to it?”
A study of Washington State, where the policy is in effect, suggests the lower tuition would draw only a handful of undocumented students, George Pernsteiner, chancellor of the Oregon University System, told the state board this month.
It would result in a “slight positive impact on the university system’s bottom line,” he said. “No one campus would serve more than 15 more students in the next four years.”
A majority of Oregon’s undocumented youth lives in low-income, Latino homes. They find it a challenge to pay resident tuition and fees, which now average $7,100 for undergraduates at the seven state campuses, university officials say. Out-of-state tuition, which is about three times that, would be out of reach, they say. University of Oregon tuition and fees total $8,190 for residents and $25,830 for students from out of state.
The bill, which heads next to a vote on the Senate floor, has support from business groups, university presidents and the State Board of Higher Education.