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Tuition equity bill OK'd

SALEM -- A bill that allows undocumented Oregon high school graduates to pay in-state college tuition rates appears poised to become law.

March 27, 2013

SALEM -- A bill that allows undocumented Oregon high school graduates to pay in-state college tuition rates appears poised to become law.

Thursday, the Oregon State Senate passed the bill on a 19-11 vote, sending it to Gov. John Kitzhaber to sign into law.

House Bill 2787 allows undocumented students to pay in-state tuition rates as long as they attended an Oregon high school for at least three years and graduated, went to school in the United States for at least five years prior to graduation, and show proof of intention to become a U.S. citizen.

Western Oregon University President Mark Weiss said the bill's passage was a "tremendous step forward."

Weiss, along with all the presidents of Oregon's public universities, supported the measure. He attended Thursday's vote and, having immigrated to the United States from Eastern Europe himself as a child, could relate to those who awaited the outcome.

Mark Weiss

Mark Weiss

"There were lots of students, they looked like elementary-age students, in the audience, in the balcony observing," he said. "It was reserved, but you could sense a feeling of jubilation for those who might be impacted."

Weiss said undocumented students currently have to pay nearly $20,000 per year in tuition and fees to attend WOU, compared to the in-state rate of about $6,500.

He said he isn't sure how many future WOU students will be affected by the bill's passage, but believes it will have a positive impact on the state's education goals, including Kitzhaber's goal of having 40 percent of high school graduates earn at least a bachelor's degree by 2025.

"With the changing demographics (in Oregon) the success of the underserved and minority populations is indeed one of our core missions," Weiss said. "This will help."

Kitzhaber said he is eager to put his signature on the legislation that was first introduced 10 years ago.

"This will help our state capitalize on the investment we've made in these students through the K-12 system while giving them their shot at the American dream," Kitzhaber said in a statement Thursday. "I appreciate the hard work of so many Oregonians to make this possible, and I look forward to signing the bill."

The bill was approved in the Oregon House of Representatives on a 38-18 vote Feb. 22. Senate President Peter Courtney first introduced the bill in 2003 and a similar measure was proposed again in 2011. It passed the Senate in both years, but was never brought to a vote in the House.

Courtney, who again was the chief Senate sponsor of the measure, said the bill "creates a path to opportunity" for students, regardless of citizenship.

"All these students want is the same chance to succeed as their high school classmates," he said in a statement.