Following the passage of a new state law earlier this year granting in-state college tuition to some undocumented immigrant students, Colorado Mountain College (CMC) saw 148 undocumented students enroll this fall.
Known as the Colorado ASSET bill, new enrollees at the college accounted for 97 of those students, while the other 51 were undocumented CMC students who had previously been paying out-of-state rates and had their tuition sharply reduced under the law.
CMC operates campuses in nine counties across 12,000 square miles of western Colorado and has an annual student population of about 23,000.
Lin Stickler, CMC’s interim vice president of student affairs, said the number of undocumented students who enrolled at CMC this fall rivaled the enrollments recorded at some large public colleges on the Front Range after the ASSET bill passed.
The Metropolitan State University of Denver, which has offered in-state tuition to undocumented students since 2012, now has 348 of them enrolled under the law, according to the Denver Post, and 121 of those are new this fall. The University of Colorado has roughly 43 students across its three Front Range campuses.
The ASSET bill, which backers had been trying to pass for 10 years before they succeeded this year, offers fairly mammoth savings to qualifying undocumented students.
For the 2013-14 academic year, CMC’s per-credit out-of-state tuition rate was $299, while the in-state rate for students attending college at a campus outside of their district was $95. The rate for students studying at a campus within their district was just $56.
That means that the typical undocumented student who obtains a two-year degree under the ASSET bill at a CMC campus outside of their district will save more than $12,000, while a student going to school within their district will save more than $14,500.
“What I was paying for one college credit I’m now paying for the whole semester,” said Kenia Pinela, an undocumented student living in Carbondale and attending school at CMC’s Spring Valley campus.
Pinela said her parents had always planned to send her to college.
“Not going has never been an option for us,” she said, noting that the ASSET bill simply made tuition bills less of a financial burden for her family.
Stickler said she hadn’t been sure how many new undocumented students to expect after Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signed the ASSET bill in April, but she was pleasantly surprised by the number of students who matriculated.
“This has been a segment of our population that we have not been able to reach because of the financial barrier,” said Stickler, referring to the relatively high cost of out-of-state tuition that many undocumented students had been required to pay.
Stickler said that on the whole, students enrolled under the ASSET bill have the same needs as the larger student body. Many of them are fluent in English, and all have attended at least three years of high school in Colorado, as required under the law.
“We don’t find that these students have different needs at all,” Stickler said. “They are educated at the same level as our documented students, because they went to school here in Colorado.”
Beyond the requirement that students graduate from a Colorado high school, they also must apply to a public college in the state within 12 months after graduation, and that they sign an affidavit signifying that they plan to seek legal immigration status through existing channels.
CMC actively solicits applications from students who might qualify for the ASSET bill, placing ads in the weekly Roaring Fork Valley Spanish language newspaper El Montañes and on local radio stations, advertising on the school’s website and sending a recruiter to local high schools to search for eligible students.
The CMC campus in Edwards recorded the largest enrollment of undocumented students this fall, with 43. The CMC Rifle campus followed with 22 enrollments, while the Spring Valley campus near Glenwood Springs had 19, as did the Glenwood Center campus in downtown Glenwood Springs. The Aspen campus had eight students enrolled and Carbondale had 14.