Oregon taxpayers on hook for ‘free’ college education for undocumented aliens

Sen Doug Whitsett

Thanks to legislation passed by Democrat majority

by Sen. Doug Whitsett

During the 2013 regular session, the Legislative Assembly enacted House Bill 2787. It was better known as the “Tuition Equity Act,” and passed with a significant bipartisan majority vote. That Act established eligibility for in-state tuition for students that demonstrated the intent to become United States citizens and who met certain previous attendance requirements in schools both in Oregon and other U.S. states and territories.

The Legislative Fiscal Report for that bill estimated that only 38 undocumented alien students would take advantage of the opportunity to pay in-state tuition to attend an Oregon University during the 2013-15 budget period. The report estimated that 80 students would participate during the 2015-17 budget period. The “tuition equity” bill did not affect Oregon community colleges because they do not have residency requirements.

Supporters of the “Tuition Equity Act” argued that it would cause little cost to Oregonians. They further inferred that they would ask for neither future expansion of eligibility for in-state tuition nor request eligibility for financial aid for undocumented alien students. I voted against HB 2787, not least because I did not believe their words.

University and community college students who are neither United States citizens nor eligible non-citizens are not eligible for federal grant-in-aid programs. Undocumented aliens are prohibited from even filing a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). However, the Oregon Opportunity Grant, which is Oregon’s own taxpayer-funded grant-in-aid program for college students, is not constrained by federal law.

On party-line votes, the Democrat majority passed SB 932-C this year. It significantly enlarged the number of undocumented aliens who are eligible for in-state tuition. Further, the bill created new eligibility for Oregon undocumented alien university and community college students to receive Oregon funded grant-in-aid as well as student loans. I believe it will serve as a beacon for undocumented alien students to come to Oregon for what amounts to a free college education at the expense of Oregon taxpayers.

The Legislative Fiscal Report on SB 932-C estimates that as many as 1,000 undocumented alien students may receive Opportunity Grants the first year, and as many as 4,000 may be participating within four years. At only $1,000 per term, the cost could reach $12 million per year! The fiscal report does not appear to contemplate the in-migration of students that I predict.

Not only does SB 932-C make undocumented alien students eligible for Oregon taxpayer-paid tuition and expenses, it likely gives them preference over documented resident citizens. According to the bill’s fiscal impact statement, grants and loans for unauthorized immigrants “may be skewed towards an expected family contribution rate of zero or close to zero, which would give this population a higher priority for grant awards.”

Majority Democrats also passed HB 2407, making further changes to the existing program. That bill ensures that grants will be made to students with the highest financial need, and where possible, prioritize funding for students from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups. That priority will be based upon an “equity lens” established by rule by the Oregon Education Investment Board. This “equity lens” appears to be focused on contributing financial aid to low-income undocumented alien students.

They also enacted HB 3063-A, which amended statute to include “foundations of community colleges” in the existing program that distributes money to community colleges. The program was created specifically to increase the number of underserved, low-income and first-generation college-bound students who enroll in community college and make progress toward a degree or certificate. This too appears to be focused on impoverished, first-generation and, perhaps, undocumented immigrants.

The bill appropriates $3 million of General Fund money to that program. Portland Community College Future Connect is an existing community college foundation that will be eligible to receive the funding. Senator Dembrow, who carried and strongly advocated for both SB 932-C and HB 3063-A on the Senate floor, is an adjunct professor at Portland Community College.

Unfortunately, too many “legislative deals” are not kept. Many of those legislators who voted for the “Tuition Equity Act” in 2013 rightly feel betrayed. Assurances that their vote would not “open the floodgates” for undocumented alien students to attend Oregon colleges and universities with taxpayer funded Opportunity Grants were insincere.

Egregiously, some legislators are now saying they do not even remember giving those assurances. So much for an open and transparent legislative process.

Senator Doug Whitsett is the Republican state senator representing Senate District 28 – Klamath Falls