WASHINGTON — A broad group of political, business and immigration leaders gathered Wednesday to rally support for Proposition 308, the ballot initiative that would guarantee in-state tuition to every Arizona high school graduate, regardless of citizenship status.
With an estimated 2,000 undocumented students graduating from Arizona high schools each year, supporters of the Yes on 308 campaign said it was simply “smart policy” to remove barriers to their education.
“Some people may disagree, so we’re also saying let’s do the right thing economically and for our country,” said Paul J. Luna, president and CEO of the Helios Education Foundation. “These students who are trained will make a greater contribution to the success of our state.”
At least 22 states currently allow undocumented state residents to pay in-state tuition at public colleges, but Arizona is not one of them. The state’s residents overwhelmingly voted the other way in 2006, approving Proposition 300 by a 71-29 percent margin.
This measure denied in-state college tuition, financial aid, and state-subsidized child care to anyone without legal status.
Proposition 308 gives voters a chance to reverse course this fall. If approved, it would allow anyone who graduated from an Arizona high school after attending in-person for at least two years to receive an in-state education, regardless of their immigration status.
The initiative was approved by state lawmakers in 2021 with a handful of Republican votes. Because it was sent to voters as a ballot initiative, it was not subject to a veto by the governor.
The Yes on 308 coalition, which launched Wednesday, includes business groups, civic leaders, education groups and elected officials from both parties.
Mesa Mayor John Giles said at the unveiling that it was “very counterintuitive to try to strengthen our workforce while at the same time putting barriers in front of these great young Americans who are very eager to participate in this American dream.”
Giles, a Republican, said passage of Proposition 308 would “remove the unfair obstacles that stand in the way of these children’s dreams.”
That theme was echoed by others at the event, who said investing in undocumented students would be investing in the state’s future.
“They’re an asset, they’ve earned it, and I think we should all support them and vote yes on Proposition 308,” said David Adame, president and CEO of Chicanos Por La Causa, a Deferred Action for Protection recipient of arriving children.
Adame said one in five DACA recipients is trying to get a college degree. He also boasted about how undocumented immigrants have contributed to the economy in the 10 years since DACA was passed.
“They have contributed more than $25 million through their current jobs to Medicare and the Social Security system,” he said at the campaign launch.
While unable to provide in-state tuition to Dreamers, the Arizona Board of Regents has given them a tuition break over out-of-state students. Undocumented residents who graduated from an Arizona high school currently pay 150 percent of the in-state rate at one of the state’s three public universities.
That can still be steep for undocumented students: Aliento, a DACA advocacy group, estimates that undocumented students in Arizona would pay about $16,500 a year in tuition, compared to more than $11,000 for other students in the state.
Luna said that means many students “based on their immigration status are forced to pay higher tuition that for many is unaffordable.”
“We want to make sure these students have the ability to pay in-state tuition,” Luna said.
If approved by voters, Proposition 308 would take effect next spring. Giles said it was the right thing to do.
“They’ve been educated in our schools, raised in our churches, they play on our kids’ Little League teams and they’ve given back to our communities and help build our state’s economy in countless ways,” he said.