Controversial Tuition Change at Metro State

Metro president Stephen Jordan explains the school's new tuition program for undocumented students.
June 2012

Last week, Metropolitan State College of Denver established a new tuition rate for undocumented students at the school. It was a controversial decision that could see a legal challenge in the not-so-distant future, but it's one that Metro president Stephen Jordan says could lead to further changes in the way the state educates its youngest undocumented residents.

Under the tuition change, undocumented students who earn a GED or a diploma from a Colorado high school—and attend that school for three years—will pay roughly $3,300 per semester, versus the nearly $8,000 in non-resident tuition they previously paid. (In-state tuition at the school is about $2,800 per semester.)

More than 120 undocumented students were enrolled at the school last semester, a number Jordan says could quadruple this fall with the tuition change. "We're not doing this to import people from other places to get a preferential tuition rate," he told 5280 in an interview last week. "We're doing this to support people who are already here and who have spent their time going to schools here in Colorado."

(Some of Jordan's comments have been condensed and edited for brevity.)

"We've always been an institution that served first-generation, low-income, and minority students. We've got the largest minority population of any institution in the state."

"[The new tuition] doesn't have any state subsidy, whatsoever. But it's less than the non-resident rate, which has no relationship at all to what it actually costs to provide the education."

"Our logic goes back to this: We've always served Colorado, we've always served low-income, first-generation kids. Scrappy kids who wanted to change their lives."

"If you think about what's happened, if a young person was brought here at a very early age, the state of Colorado has spent about $85,000 in taxpayer money on their education [if they graduate high school]. What we're saying is, having made that $85,000 investment, knowing these people are going to stay here anyway and want to be a part of our community, why wouldn't we reasonably want to create an affordable—but unsubsidized—tuition rate that would allow them to be able to attend college and complete a degree?"

"A college education is not just about the workforce. It's about creating people who understand what it means to be a good citizen, who are committed to their communities. These young people want to be here. They want to be contributing in a positive way. Let's give them a means to afford a college education."

"What I really hope is that at some point the state legislature acts and passes an ASSET-like bill that created public policy that applies to every institution and provides some sort of state subsidy. A lot of times, it takes people to initiate these things before the legislature will act. We hope this creates momentum. And we believe someone needs to be the first to do it."

"I truly believe that this is the right thing for our community. These are kids who are really here of no fault of their own and they genuinely want to be contributing members. They understand that the only way they can do that is to get an education."

"We look at Denver Public Schools and look at how they're struggling to get kids to graduate. One reason is because they don't see an opportunity to go to college. If you're in seventh or eighth grade and you've decided you don't have a chance because it's way too expensive for you and your family, how hard are you going to work? This is going to help DPS and other schools like it that have these same populations of kids."

"We're all working to solve these problems together. In my view, this is just one more piece we can do that is going to help create a better, more sustainable community for us."

"If I'm right, then all we're going to be doing is contributing people who can be part of the workforce. If I'm wrong, the worst we have is a group of college-educated people who care about what they do, who paid for the entire cost themselves. I don't see how this community loses."

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