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AG Reviewing Metro State's New Tuition Rate

DENVER (AP) - The Colorado Attorney General's Office is reviewing a discounted tuition rate for illegal immigrant students recently set by the Metropolitan State College of Denver - a proposal that has divided state lawmakers for years.

Republican Attorney General John Suthers said Wednesday many state colleges and universities are interested in legal issues surrounding the matter. "So we're very vigorously researching this issue," he said.

Suthers said he could not disclose who requested the review because of attorney-client privilege and he does not yet know if any findings will be publicly released.

Metro State's action last week came two months after the Colorado House defeated a measure to make tuition cheaper for illegal immigrants. The college's decision angered Republicans.

"I think this presents a huge dilemma for the state because I very much support local control, but I also believe that that decision is the wrong decision," said Rep. Cindy Acree, a Republican from Arapahoe and Elbert counties.

Republicans sent a letter to Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper on Wednesday asking him to block Metro State's new tuition rate and warning of potential lawsuits. The lawmakers say they're already drafting legislation for next year to repeal Metro State's action.

Hickenlooper's spokesman, Eric Brown, said the governor supported the legislation that failed this year, but he hasn't weighed in on Metro State's decision and is awaiting Suthers' review.

"We will wait until that review is complete before commenting further," Brown said.

Public colleges and universities have authority to set their nonresident tuition rates, said Chad Marturano, director of legislative affairs at the Colorado Department of Higher Education. CDHE supported this year's legislation, but Marturano said it has no position on what Metro State did and is "monitoring this to see how it unfolds."

The Republican lawmakers said in the letter to the governor that they disagree with the assessment that colleges and universities have broad authority over setting their nonresident rates.

Federal law prohibits states from granting illegal immigrants benefits not provided to U.S. citizens, such as discounted tuition not available to out-of-state students. However, 13 states, including California and Texas, have crafted and passed tuition legislation for illegal immigrants and they have survived legal challenges.

But a Colorado law passed in 2006 forbids the state from granting some benefits, excluding emergency services, to illegal immigrants. That's one issue attorneys will need to examine in the Metro State case, Suthers said.

This year's bill, sponsored by Democrats, would have given colleges and universities the choice of creating a third tuition category for illegal immigrants who graduated from Colorado highs schools. The students would pay a higher rate than in-state students because they would not receive a state subsidy. But the rate would still be substantially less than what out-of-state students pay.

Metro State's policy, expected to take effect this fall, could benefit an estimated 300 students, college officials said. The tuition classified as a second nonresident rate would be about $3,578 per semester. That's about half the amount currently for nonresident tuition. Tuition for in-state students is $2,152 per semester.

To qualify for the discounted rate, illegal immigrants must have graduated from a Colorado high school after attending for at least three years and state that they are seeking or will seek legal status, provisions that were in this year's legislation. But Metro State's new rate is a bit higher than what lawmakers proposed because illegal immigrants will be paying for other state support, including a $650 capital construction fee for using campus buildings.

Democratic lawmakers said they pushed for legislation because they weren't sure colleges and universities had the power to settle the matter on their own.

"What we need to do as elected officials is not put barriers in place that could prevent these students, no matter what country they come from, from getting a public education," said Denver Democratic Rep. Angela Williams, a co-sponsor of the bill.

Even with Metro State's action, Democrats say they will introduce a bill next year to make the policy statewide.

Metro State President Stephen Jordan said making college more accessible to illegal immigrants educated in Colorado schools is an important part of Metro State's mission to serve low-income, first-generation college students.

"That's who we serve," he said.

- By Ivan Moreno, AP Writer

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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