Old Main

Historic Old Main at the University of Arizona.

As the academic year begins, we are reminded that in April, the same month that the University of Arizona earned status as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, the Arizona Supreme Court voted to deny in-state tuition for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) students. This could more than double the cost of tuition for the more than 2,000 DACA students attending public colleges in Arizona.

The designation of Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) was created by the federal government to direct funding to nonprofit colleges where at least 25 percent of the full-time-equivalent students are Hispanic/Latino. Through an annual renewal, universities must demonstrate that they meet the core requirements, which also include enrolling a percentage of low-income students. Earning HSI designation is significant and further reflects the mission of the University of Arizona’s land grant status — one that espouses the value of expanding educational opportunities in Arizona while training a workforce capable of addressing crucial local and global issues.

However, earning this designation also comes with a responsibility to better serve Hispanic/Latino students who are integral members of the social and economic fabric of our state. Over 12 percent of the students in Arizona’s K-12 school system come from mixed-status families. They are an invaluable part of our community where citizenship should be understood as an accident of birth.

The UA ought to continue to serve its students by working to improve the resources available to support the approximately 40 current DACA students, and undocumented and DACA students who seek to attend the university. These students feel terrorized, threatened and in shock now that they are no longer eligible for in-state tuition. Therefore, support should include not just financial aid, but institutional, psychological and community support.

UA President Robert Robbins committed to doing everything possible to facilitate fundraising opportunities to support DACA students. While the UA cannot raise funds directly, and cannot use state resources to financially support DACA students, funding could be allocated through private sources such as the UA President’s Directed Scholarship Account.

This is a positive first step, however, more is needed. The UA could better support undocumented and DACA students through:

• A deliberate plan that demonstrates a continued commitment to raise scholarship funds for current and incoming undocumented and DACA students.

• Support existing student centers on campus with increased budget, staff and physical space to foster student support systems essential to academic success.

• Provide more funding and staff for the Immigrant Student Resource Center.

• Implement required training for faculty and staff on mentorship, campus climate and immigration policies.

• Initiate differential tuition rates for undocumented and DACA students.

• Actively engage K-12 schools and work with organizations like Scholarships A-Z so that students know they have a place at the UA.

Nationwide there are examples of universities creating opportunities and support for their undocumented and DACA students.

To truly be a HSI, a university should and must serve all of its Hispanic/Latino students. This includes those who are undocumented and have DACA status. By not serving these students, the UA fails to truly be a Hispanic-Serving Institution.

Serving students well requires not a pipeline, but a durable and flexible web of opportunities, resources and mentors that begins in the K-12 system and ends with a college degree and opportunities for job placement. The UA is currently in a position to be a leader and should have the vision to lend a strong arm of support to current and future generations of all Arizona students.

Michelle Téllez is an assistant professor in the Department of Mexican-American Studies and Rachel Gallery is an associate professor in the School of Natural Resources and the Environment at the University of Arizona. Both are Public Voices fellows with The OpEd Project.