PORTLAND, Ore. – A panel of students, faculty and administrators is proposing charging in-state tuition for undocumented immigrant students at Oregon's public universities.
The idea didn't get to the last Legislature but is being discussed through Friday by the State Board of Higher Education as a way to diversify enrollment.
Tuition is three times higher than in-state rates for the undocumented immigrants, which prevents many high school graduates from attending college.
"It seemed to us that it was a reasonable position to take," said Dalton Miller-Jones, a state board member and Portland State University professor who heads the panel.
The issue of taxpayer subsidies for undocumented students is part of the larger immigration debate expected to be a factor in the presidential race.
About 10 states, including California and Washington, already allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition.
Oregon's State Board of Higher Education can make the change but has held off, waiting for legislative approval, said Neil Bryant, a former legislator who lobbies for the university system.
The Legislature and the governor could reverse any changes the board makes.
"We go to the Legislature for a whole variety of things, and you want to have a good positive relationship with them," said Bryant, former state senator.
Rep. Linda Flores, R-Clackamas, who opposes the idea, said she would be "very disappointed" if the state board end-runs the Legislature.
"People are very concerned about services and benefits being provided to people who are not here legally," she said.
Universities don't track who is legal and who isn't. Latino students, most of whom are here legally, make up 4 percent of enrollment in the public university system and 10 percent of the state population.
Lorena Landeros, a senior at the University of Oregon, said it's unfair that some Oregon high school can't attend college because of their immigration status. She said she had friends in that situation when she graduated from Junction City High School.
"They were great students. They were better students than I was," she said.
Any student who meets admission requirements can attend Oregon's public universities. They are asked whether they are citizens only for tuition purposes and few questions are asked.
Students who are not citizens are considered international and ineligible for in-state tuition or financial aid and need an appropriate visa to attend.
The estimated annual tuition and fees at the University of Oregon are $6,174 for in-state students and $19,338 for international and out-of-state students.
Agnes Hoffman, associate vice provost at PSU, said paying higher tuition is a "tremendous barrier.
"We know that the Hispanic population is growing tremendously, and we aren't keeping up with the rate at colleges and universities, and that's not good for our economy and that's not good for our communities," she said.
The proposal is one of a dozen recommendations by a board subcommittee intended to increase campus diversity.
Board members will discuss their priorities Friday in Portland but will not vote on the in-state tuition question.
Hannah Fisher, a PSU student and state board member, said it is not an immigration issue.
"It's about students who graduated from an Oregon high school who can't go to college in Oregon for an appropriate price," she said. "It's kids who are already here and have made a contribution to the Oregon community."