Nine years and counting

Senate Bill 742 has died.

Tuition equity has died.

Fair access to education for all Oregonians has died.

For now.

Oregonians have been fighting for tuition equity for nine years now, and this year it has been defeated again.  The latest manifestation of tuition equity is SB 742.  This bill would allow undocumented Oregonians who have been attending Oregon public schools for at least three years to qualify for in state tuition at Oregon’s public higher education institutions, such as Oregon State University.  SB 742 would have been a return on the investment Oregon has made in these students in the K-12 public school system, and it would have generated more revenue for Oregon, instead of pricing potential beneficiaries out of the education system completely.  Several other states have passed similar tuition equity bills.  Utah considered repealing their tuition equity law, but this would have resulted in a loss of $1.5 million in tuition fees.  They decided to keep it.

Despite months of passionate lobbying and testifying, the bill died in the House of Representatives, and efforts to sign a discharge petition fell short of the required 31 signatures.  It’s a disappointment for some and a heartbreak for others, but community members didn’t give up after the first nine years, and they aren’t going to throw in the towel now.

Fair access to educational opportunities for all Oregonians ties into the greater immigration reform debate.  In the face of such injust policies like Arizona’s SB 1070 and other copy cat states, it is more important than ever to stand united and question racist ideologies that perpetuate a membership mentality to country club America.  Detractors and opponents to SB 742 ask how these undocumented Oregonians deserve access to college and argue that they take spots away from deserving documented Oregonians, but this is not the case. Oregon institutions have the capacity to enroll all of these students, and citizens born or naturalized in Oregon would not be turned away at the door in order to accommodate these high achieving undocumented Oregonians.

The Oregonians who would benefit from a tuition equity law are students who have already proven to be assets to their communities, earning top grades in school and participating in the same extracurriculars and community involvement American citizens prove their worth by.  They have proven they deserve access to higher education by performing at the same levels and in the same capacities as their classmates, and their interest in higher education indicates their intention to continue growing and serving as productive members of society.

Arguments that undocumented Oregonians would take  spots from deserving documented Oregonians rely on the competition mentality, believing there is a need to compete for limited resources, and the camps tend to fall along race and class lines.  How did an Oregonian citizen deserve a spot over an undocumented classmate by being born in a certain place, at a certain time?  What control does anyone have over that?  These undocumented students have already worked their way up and deserve to have their hard work pay off in the form of an affordable college education.  These students are not faceless or nameless.  They are individuals, embedded in our families, neighborhoods, and communities.

We are not competing over limited resources.  We are selling ourselves short as a nation by promoting cut throat competition instead of working together.  By passing senate bills like 742, we are actually building a just and inclusive society.  Society as a whole will benefit when knowledge born from lived experience is shared to paint a fuller picture.  SB 742 may have died, but the fight isn’t over for fair access for ALL Oregonians to higher education.

For future actions and campaigns, visit

Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon at www.apano.org

CAUSA at http://www.causaoregon.org

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