We know full well the systematic failure of many of our students in K-12 public education. Latinos for Education Reform is devoted to initiatives that help prepare all children — including Latinos — to enroll, succeed, and graduate from college.
But K-12 education is wasted if accomplished high school graduates — including undocumented students — are unable to afford and attend college. The papers we should be demanding from our undocumented students are not proofs of residency, but college diplomas.
The ASSET bill, scheduled to be heard in the Colorado Senate today, would allow undocumented high school graduates to attend college at a cost between the in-state tuition paid by other residents and the amount paid by students from outside the state. Undocumented students will pay about 40 percent more than their in-state peers, ensuring that this bill does not cost Colorado's taxpayers a dime.
It's a bill that also deserves a full vote on the floor of the House, and deserves to pass.
A college degree is increasingly the gateway to professional and civic life. College graduates have greater job opportunities and higher incomes. College graduates are engaged in their communities. They are healthier and use fewer social services. They contribute to our fiscal growth, and climb the ladder of economic mobility. It is college graduates who fulfill the dreams of our democracy.
Latino communities can be one of the engines for the continued prosperity, innovation, and accomplishment that are at the core of our country's civic ideals. Latinos desire to form, build, and lead the institutions that fulfill the promises of our democratic society, not to be left at its margins. To meet these goals, we need the same opportunities to build achievements and accomplishments that are available to others. We cannot — and our children cannot — achieve our goals without equal access to an affordable college education.
The children of illegal immigrants should not bear the sins of their fathers or the flaws of our dysfunctional immigration system. Undocumented students did not choose to enter this country illegally. The decision to come to the United States was made for them, not by them. To deny these students the opportunity to attend and graduate from college on economic terms similar to their peers — due to the actions of others in which they had no say — undermines the core values of personal responsibility and individual meritocracy at the very heart of our society.
In 1876, Colorado's legislators recognized the importance of college when they established the University of Colorado, the Colorado School of Mines and Colorado Agricultural College (now CSU). They saw education as a path for residents to achieve greater prosperity and civic engagement. In forming our institutions of higher learning, these legislators affirmed that economic opportunity is best determined by ability and achievement, not social class or circumstance. We ask our legislature to continue to honor these values. As it was then, so should it be today.
Undocumented students are often the lights of the Latino community. They should not be extinguished; they must be allowed to shine.
Timothy Marquez is founder of Venoco, Inc., a Denver-based public energy company, and is a member of Latinos for Education Reform.