A new Colorado law could make an education at Fort Lewis College more affordable for “undocumented” students.
The measure approved by the Legislature this spring, House Bill 19-1196, lets students living in Colorado without legal permission apply for state financial aid to attend a state college or university.
FLC President Tom Stritikus lauded the new option for aid.
“With this bill, Colorado is helping undocumented students realize their full potential,” Stritikus said in a news release.
Students living in the country without legal permission do not qualify for federal aid, so their options for tuition assistance are limited to private and institutional scholarships, said FLC spokeswoman Lauren Savage.
At FLC, the aid could offset the annual tuition and fees, which total $8,872 per year for in-state students. The estimated total cost of attending FLC is about $25,375 annually for in-state students, including cost-of-living expenses.
Students living in Colorado without legal permission qualify for in-state tuition in Colorado under the Advancing Students for a Strong Tomorrow Act, which passed in 2013.
The law is expected to extend assistance to 1,350 students statewide, according to The Denver Post. FLC could not say how many students might benefit from the new financial assistance because it does not track them in any way, Savage said.
Through state funds, an individual student would typically receive $3,000 for an academic year through need-based financial assistance and $3,000 through work-study assistance, said Tracey Piccoli, FLC’s director of financial aid.
In fiscal 2018, Colorado provided about $174 million in financial aid, according a Department Higher Education financial report.
To qualify for state financial assistance, students living in Colorado without legal permission must have attended high school in Colorado for at least three years before graduating or completing a high school equivalency examination. The students must also be admitted to a state college or university within 12 months after high school graduation and have submitted an affidavit stating that the student has applied for lawful presence or will apply as soon as they are eligible.
Students and their families living in the country without legal permission are likely working in Colorado and paying taxes to the state through their paychecks and purchases, making tuition assistance a benefit they should naturally qualify for as taxpayers, said Matt Karkut, the new executive director at Compañeros: Four Corners Immigrant Resource Center in Durango.
“Colorado is really taking a step in the right direction; it’s a good progressive direction,” he said.
College educations can help students living in the country without legal permission earn enough to pursue their citizenship, which can be a long and expensive process, he said.
“I think a lot of people underestimate the difficulty, the time commitment,” he said, of pursuing citizenship.
Many Colorado Republican lawmakers opposed extending state federal aid to students living illegally in the state. The measure passed on a party-line vote in the Colorado House with all Republicans opposed. It garnered some Republican support in the Senate.
For Jim Harper, spokesman of the La Plata County Republican Central Committee, the new law skirts rules and regulations set up to govern immigration. Similar generosity would not be available to Americans who lack lawful immigration status in another country, he said.
A failure to enforce immigration rules and regulations can undermine a republic, he said.
“I can’t walk into another country and expect to take advantage of all those opportunities without being a part of that nation,” Harper said.