DENVER – Democrat sponsors of a new law that grants in-state tuition to illegal immigrants seriously underestimated the number of undocumented students who would take advantage of the benefit.
According to the Department of Higher Education, a whopping 2,880 students have registered online for the College Opportunity Fund stipend. This is the first step in applying for the stipend, which would be awarded pending enrollment.
At least 640 undocumented students have already enrolled in state colleges under the new law, according to a report by the state Department of Education.
That number exceeds the estimated 500 illegal immigrants who were projected to apply this year and the 250 expected for 2014-15. Those guesstimates were used to determine the financial impact of the controversial proposal on the state’s General Fund — $930,000 and nearly $1.4 million, respectively.
The bill – known as Senate Bill 33 – signed into law by Gov. John Hickenlooper in April, enables illegal-immigrant students who have lived in Colorado for three years – and graduated from high school or earned a GED – to attend higher education institutions with tuition subsidies given to legal in-state residents.
SB 33’s fiscal note stated it was inconclusive about how much money from the general fund will be required in the next fiscal year to subsidize the taxpayer-funded College Opportunity Fund, which offsets tuition costs for legal students to attend higher education institutions.
Of the 640 undocumented students approved to receive in-state tuition, 348 enrolled at Metropolitan State University of Denver – much higher than the 137 students predicted by the fiscal note.
“These students may now go to any local college or university, yet they continue to choose MSU Denver,” Deputy Provost Luis Torres recently told EdNews Colorado.
During the three-hour debate on the Senate floor earlier this year, SB 33 opponents questioned the fiscal note and an amendment to the bill passed by the Senate Appropriations Committee that declared $502.6 million from the general fund would be appropriated for the college opportunity fund for FY 2012-13.
Joint Budget Committee member Sen. Kent Lambert (R-Colorado Springs) attempted to amend the bill to obtain a valid appropriations report – but it was rejected by the Democrat-controlled Senate.
“This amendment is intended to provide clarity, to reverse the Jedi mind trick of the appropriations report,” declared Lambert in a last attempt after the bill had passed.
SB 33 sponsor Sen. Michael Johnston (D-Denver) asserted that the in-state tuition measure “requires no additional appropriations outside of the Long Bill” which sets the state budget for FY 2013-14.
Correcting Johnston’s assertion, JBC Chair Sen. Pat Steadman (D-Denver) said, “The appropriations report does not declare this is free. It will be funded in the Long Bill.”
As the costs of higher education tuition costs have skyrocketed, the College Opportunity Fund has dramatically decreased over the past eight years. The COF stipend to offset the cost of tuition for legal in-state students dropped 23 percent, from $80 to $62 per credit hour, by 2012.
The average cost of in-state tuition was $3,218 per year in 2000 compared to $7,287 forecasted next year, according to the Department of Education. State funding dropped from $6,742 per student to $3,342 over the same period.
The state’s funding share declined during economic recessions in 2000 and 2008, which has been a sluggish recovery. Unknown is the impact of the greater-than-projected number of undocumented students receiving in-state tuition on the state General Fund.