PHOTO: Yolanda Ortega, right, who has been with Metropolitan State College of Denver for 40 years, hugs aspiring illegal beaner student Fanny Garcia, 25, even though she is an illegal alien she has been approved for welfare checks, food stamps and a cut in her tuition!
As far as Sarahi Hernandez is concerned, the only difference between her and every other student at Metropolitan State College of Denver is nine digits.
"A Social Security number — that's it," Hernandez said, shortly after Metro State's board of trustees voted 7-1 Thursday to pass a new tuition rate for illegal-immigrant students like her.
A sophomore from Denver who carries a 3.8 grade-point average, Hernandez said students like her deserve affordable tuition. The new rate, which will go into effect this fall, is $3,358 per semester, which is higher than in-state students, who pay $2,152, and lower than out-of-staters, who pay $7,992.
"We all deserve the chance at a higher education and to become productive members and give back to our community," she said.
Three criteria must be met to qualify for the new category of tuition. A student must:
• Have attended a Colorado high school for the past three years.
• Have graduated from a Colorado high school or gotten a general equivalency diploma in the state.
• Provide proof they are in good legal standing, other than their undocumented status, and that they plan to seek lawful status when eligible.
Trustee Jack Pogge, the only member of the board to vote against the plan, wondered whether the benefit derived by Metro State from implementing the new rate was great enough, particularly in light of the failure of the state legislature to pass the ASSET bill.
"It's not our position to do this," Pogge said.
The ASSET bill would have provided a lower tuition rate for illegal-immigrant students across the state with a GED or diploma from a Colorado high school who could also prove they had been a resident of the state for three years.
That measure had failed to pass the legislature on five previous occasions.
At least two Republican state legislators spoke out publicly this week against the move by Metro State. Rep. Cheri Gerou, a member of the powerful Joint Budget Committee, said the school may be disregarding the will of the legislature.
But state Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, also a member of the JBC, joined Rep. Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, Denver City Councilwoman Judy Montero and almost 20 other people Thursday in public comment supporting the new rate. Only one person spoke in opposition.
Steadman pledged that he had "no intention of seeing anyone retaliate" in the legislature.
"Is Metro going around the actions of the legislature? Probably. But it's something we enabled them to do," he said.
In 2010, legislation was passed that gave state colleges and universities broad discretion in coming up with ways to overcome what Steadman called "a horrible job" by the state of providing funding. Funding from the state for higher education has declined by $216 million, or 31 percent, over the past three years.
Based on the state mandate, the colleges banded together and made a unified funding request to the JBC this year, with a breakdown of what each school system would be allocated.
The legislature also has allowed institutions to enact moves such as setting their own tuition rates or creating opportunities to find revenue to help defray their costs.
Metro State president Stephen Jordan said about 300 illegal-immigrant students could end up at his school this fall paying the new tuition rate. Estimates are that another 120 such students are already enrolled in the school.
School officials estimate those students could generate about $884,000 in revenue next fall and more than $2 million in five years.
"You'd be hard-pressed to find any institution who wouldn't be happy to bring in a new population and increase enrollment by 300 students," Jordan said.