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CMC discusses tuition for children of undocumented immigrants

Children of undocumented immigrants may graduate from a local high school, but under federal law they have to pay out-of-state tuition – $6,600 a year – to attend Colorado Mountain College.

In-district tuition for full-time students is about $1,270 a year.

The Colorado Mountain College Board of Trustees will discuss the tuition discrepancy during today’s meeting, set for 9 a.m. to 2:50 p.m., at the Spring Valley Campus.



Other agenda items include the search for a new CMC president, whether the college should establish President Emeritus status for some former presidents, and the college’s decision to discontinue its professional lobbying efforts.

Trustee Jacque Whitsitt said she doesn’t expect the board to discuss Cynthia Heelan’s recent retirement from her post as CMC president, or the $350,000 retirement package the board approved for Heelan at its Nov. 8 meeting.



Colorado Mountain College charges $41 per credit hour for students who live in-district, $69 per credit hour for in-state students, and $220 per credit hour for students who live out of state.

Bob Spuhler, CMC’s interim president, said children of undocumented immigrants must be charged out-of-state tuition rates due to a federal law passed in the late 1990s. The law prevents colleges from giving tuition preference to undocumented immigrants since they don’t give the same preferences to U.S. citizens.

As an example, Spuhler said if a Missouri resident attends college in Colorado, he or she would be charged out-of-state tuition. Children of undocumented immigrants from another country, under the federal law, must pay the same out-of-state tuition.

Trustee Jeanne Sheriff of Glenwood Springs calls the tuition situation a “tough issue.”

States require that schooling be provided for students from kindergarten through 12th grade regardless of immigration status.

“When they reach college age, they sort of hit a dead end,” Sheriff said.

But if the student’s parents are here illegally, she said, maybe they should pay out-of-state tuition.

Colorado Mountain College isn’t alone in grappling with the out-of-state tuition issue.

Spuhler said several states, including California and Texas, have gotten around the federal law by passing laws of their own. He said those states give in-state tuition to children of undocumented immigrants who have completed at least three years of high school in their respective school systems.

“We’re not talking about undocumented workers,” Spuhler said. “The laws specifically address high school students.”

The CMC board will also discuss the search for a new president, and whether the college should hire a firm to deliver candidates, or conduct the search itself. In any case, Spuhler said he expects the search to take five to seven months. Spuhler said he is a candidate for the president’s position.

One job that will not be filled in 2003 is the $40,000-per-year lobbyist position created earlier this year to work with the state Legislature. The contract with lobbyist Rob Schwartz will not be renewed.

“We had mixed feelings about the benefits of a lobbyist,” Sheriff said. “The board would like to have more contact with the Legislature on a personal level.”

Last February, Schwartz said his main role would be to track legislation that affects the college, meet legislators to explain college programs, build political support, and make college teachers and administrators available to testify before legislative committees.

Spuhler said trustees may appoint a committee to look into whether the President Emeritus standing should be created. Spuhler said larger colleges often confer the honorary emeritus status on past presidents, but he has never worked at a community college with such a position.

Over lunch, trustees will meet with students to discussion their views, opinions and concerns.

“That should be fun,” Whitsitt said. “Students say whatever comes to mind.”


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