Ana Valenzuela understands exactly how the expected vote on Wednesday, Feb. 27, by the Pima Community College governing board can change lives.
The board is expected to vote on offering in-state tuition to students who've received federal work permits under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. The program, created by the federal government in June, provides the ability to work and protection from being deported to people who've come to the United States undocumented as children.
Valenzuela, a UA junior and architecture major, told the Tucson Weekly that she should graduate from the UA by May 2013, but as a deferred-action student who pays out-of-state tuition, it will probably take her almost three additional years to get that degree. She's working to save money for her next class, but last semester she took one three-unit class, which cost her $3,600.
Through her work with ScholarshipsA-Z, a local organization that advocates for undocumented students and helps with tuition assistance, Valenzuela said she knows PCC students into their fourth year still working on their two-year associate's degree. It costs $63.50 per credit for full-time in-state PCC students, and $319 for nonresidents.
Currently, the only education institution in the state to offer these students in-state tuition is the Maricopa County's college system of 10 colleges. The Arizona Board of Regents (ABOR), which runs the state's universities, has discussed making a similar change, but decided it wasn't legally able.
"That's the next step to take action around this issue - ABOR," Valenzuela said.
However, the focus lately has been on PCC. "We've been active on this vote. We're really involved in our students and about 95 percent of the students we work with attend Pima. It used be higher."
That was before Arizona voters approved Proposition 300. The referendum prevents college students who cannot prove they are legal residents from receiving state financial assistance.
In 2008, The New York Times reported that the state Legislature found that about 1,700 students were denied in-state tuition in Maricopa County. The UA saw 200 to 300 drop outs because of the law and PCC lost more than 1,000 students.
"Prop 300 made it almost impossible for students to go to school," Valenzuela said.
The deferred-action program is for all undocumented immigrants who entered the U.S. before age 16 and were no older than 31 when the program began. Those who apply must be in high school or have a high school diploma or GED. There are other requirements, including no felony convictions.
Deferred-action also provides students with a legal work permit - form I-767, under current Pima County law, students with residency are eligible for instate tuition.
That's why PCC board chair Brenda Even said she supports the vote taking place on Wednesday at the El Pueblo Library Learning Center, Room 3, 5 p.m. Newly elected PCC board member Sylvia Lee brought the proposal before the board in January, where board members discussed the legal aspects of the proposal, as well as if the state could retaliate by withholding funding.
"There's not much more they can cut," Even said. The board has been discussing this change since December when Maricopa County made its residency policy change and since the formal presentation in January most of the questions have been answered.
"We've checked with attorneys and I think are ready to vote on it at this time. I am hoping for a positive vote," she said. "I figured these are young people who have been in this country and in Tucson for many years. This is their home. We educate people. That's our mission 'Aide our community through learning.' Seems to me it would make some sense."
Valenzuela said she and other members of ScholarshipsA-Z have met with PCC board members before this vote. In a letter ScholarshipsA-Z sent to the PCC board, the group asked that if the board votes yes, that instate tuition be made available to deferred-action students by next semester, and that those students bring in their work permits this semester to change their status.
"We been working to make sure students have access to higher education. We want to continue to work with the board to implement this change and help train staff to do paperwork, be supportive and not pass judgment of status," Valenzuela said.
The group also requested that after the vote, the board makes a public statement on if this is going to be implemented or not.
Lee told the Weekly that she brought this proposal before the PCC board because she looks at this as an economic-development and quality-of-life issue. It's estimated there more than 4,000 students who are eligible if the board changes its policy.
"I sincerely hope the vote goes in our favor. We all know the benefits that higher education can play in improving lives and helping our economy in the long term," Lee said.
"Latino youth is the fastest growing youth group in our country. We have to secure an education for them for our country's future."