California bill would make it cheaper for some Mexican students to go to college in the US
Abril Hernandez, a student at Southwestern Community College, sat in her car waiting in a long line to cross the border from San Diego to Mexico. It had already been two hours of waiting, but she knew the drill now.
“You spend most of your time online,” Hernandez, 33, said in Spanish. “When you finally get home, you only have time to sleep.”
Hernandez, who was born in the United States, lived on both sides of the border while studying for an engineering degree at Southwestern College. Prior to the birth of her child, she spent weekdays living with her father in San Diego so she could attend classes and avoid the high tuition fees of nonresidents. On weekends, she traveled to Tijuana to go home to her mother.
“It was uncomfortable having to go back and forth and not having a stable home,” she said.
Hernandez now remains in San Diego full-time. But for several years before her baby was born, she was one of approximately 7,000 kindergarten through middle school students — out of a total of 100,000 people — who pass through the San Ysidro Port of Entry each day. Binational students living near the border, many of whom are U.S.-born children in low-income households, attend school in California but can live in Mexico because it’s more affordable.
To serve these binational students, Assemblyman David Alvarez (D-San Diego) presented Assembly Bill 91 to make it easier for students living in Mexico to go to college in California. The bill would create a five-year pilot program allowing low-income students living in Mexico within 45 miles of the California border to pay in-state tuition to attend one of seven San Diego campuses. and Imperial Valley Countys Community College Assn.
“It’s a well-integrated economy that we’re proud of in this region,” Alvarez said in an interview. “We hope that by educating the future workforce – who happen to live on the Mexican side – we can continue to grow as a region and create more economic opportunity.”
According to his bill, each participating college would accommodate up to 200 dual-national students during the pilot phase. Students should be US or Mexican citizens with a visa to participate in the program.
Eligible students would pay in-state tuition of $46 per unit, compared to an average of $300 for nonresidents.
“We believe so strongly in our region and feel it’s important to treat binational students as residents with in-state tuition, as opposed to international students,” Alvarez said.
Legislative officials have yet to calculate how much the proposal would cost the state. It comes as California faces an estimate Budget deficit of $22.5 billion and huge declines in enrollment at many community colleges.
Enrollment in California Community Colleges severely diminished between fall 2019 and fall 2021, falling to its lowest level in 30 years. At Southwestern College, one of the San Diego campuses eligible to participate in the pilot program, enrollment was down 20.3%. Enrollment rates in Imperial Valley have fallen 25% but have slowed their decline since 2021, said Olga Rodriguez, director of the Public Policy Institute of California’s Higher Education Center.
In previous recessions, colleges recruited nonresident students as a strategy to generate more revenue, but “it’s a wiser economic decision for regional economies to identify and shape their communities,” Rodriguez said.
Assemblyman Devon Mathis (R-Visalia) said he supports developing a state workforce through legal immigration, but parts of the bill affect him.
“We need to make sure this bill doesn’t take funds away from the rest of the community college system and do more to encourage students to stay in California and build their careers here after graduation,” said Mathis in an emailed statement. “With a $22 billion deficit, we should look to public-private partnerships with businesses and trades rather than creating a new taxpayer-funded program.”
Alvarez said the colleges are focused on bringing back students who were lost during the pandemic and that this program would not “take any places away” from Californians. Under the text of the bill, non-resident students exempt through AB 91 would be reported as full-time equivalent resident students, which the college can claim government funds based on enrollment.
AB 91 is based on the residency agreement that California’s Lake Tahoe Community College District has with students living near the Nevada border, Alvarez said. THE California Nevada Interstate Presence Agreement allows certain Nevada residents to pay in-state tuition at certain California colleges.
“One of the things that Tahoe does uniquely is that it functions as a region,” said Laura Metune, senior director of government relations and grant development for the University District. “Our role is to ensure communities across the basin have what they need in terms of workforce development, and being able to serve students from both sides allows us to be fully aligned with the needs of the community.”
The University District began applying for special permission to serve students living on the Nevada side of the Tahoe Basin about a decade ago. “It took us a couple of times to go through the Legislative Assembly, but eventually they backed it up,” Metune said.
About a year ago, the law was expanded to serve more Nevada students by including those from cities just beyond the Tahoe Basin. Nearly 30 students participate in the program each year, with the agreement capping Nevada student enrollment at 200. The legislation also allows the college district to claim government funds for enrolling those students.
“Our community clearly includes students from the Nevada side of the Tahoe Basin. And it appears that San Diego and Imperial colleges agree that students served under this new bill would be consistent with the community college’s mission to serve the local community,” Metune said.
Additionally, the legislation seeks to expand already existing programs between US and Mexican colleges, such as the partnership between Southwestern College and the University of Baja California.
“It’s a testament to the quality of education our community colleges provide,” Alvarez said. “They can serve students from other locations, especially when it makes sense geographically, such as our unique region here in San Diego.
“People think you have to go far from San Diego to get to Mexico. No, we are here.
AB 91 could be heard in committee this month.
Los Angeles Times