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East County colleges could eliminate non-resident tuition for some

Introduced by District 80 Assemblymember David Alvarez, Assembly Bill 91 is before the governor this week. This bill will exempt the nonresident tuition fee for low-income students who are a resident of Mexico, registers for lower division courses at Cuyamaca, Grossmont, Imperial Valley, MiraCosta, Palomar, San Diego City, San Diego Mesa, San Diego Miramar, or Southwestern colleges, and has residence within 45 miles of the California-Mexico border, to amend, repeal, and add Section 761440 of the Education Code relating to community colleges.

The bill would require the governing boards of the community colleges that choose to use this exemption to adopt one uniform policy to determine a student’s residence classification, establish procedures for an appeal and review of the residence classification, and determine whether a student is low income. The bill also would require the governing boards of the community colleges that choose to use this exemption, as a condition of its students receiving the exemption described above, to collaborate with each other to ensure the adoption of the uniform policy.

Alvarez said this bill is essentially the reality of life in our border region.

“We have over 140,000 people who cross the border every single day,” he said. “About 70% cross the border for work, but about 7,000 of those border crossers every day are students. This bill recognized the uniqueness of our region, and the population of the people in this region.”

Alvarez said, putting it simply, students that qualify can attend community colleges in the region without paying out-of-state tuition fees.

“It is a pilot program for five years and it is only for the community colleges that are in the border region,” he said. “It is tailored in a way that speaks to the dynamics of our region. It is not like any students from Mexico can come to our community colleges. Our goal is to navigate it and show that the project, the program is successful and that the students are succeeding and contributing to our regional economy, making the investment worth it.”

Alvarez said there is a program in Texas already implemented.

“To be clear, California is not leading this initiative,” he said. “We would be the last of the border states to be on Mexico border doing this. Texas has been doing this for a decade. They have graduated well over 70,000 students in their university system, so we are not even talking about community colleges.”

Alvarez said for him, success would be students completing their higher educational goals and that the investment is worth it so we can look to expand this into our university system.

Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District Chancellor Lynn Neault said AB 91 removes the financial barriers for up to 150 low-income Mexican students living within 45 miles from California to attend one of the 10 community colleges near the border.

“The bill also provides California students access to universities in Mexico through a reciprocity agreement between the California community college system and the institutions of higher education in Mexico,” she said. “It is important for California to leverage its unique location to develop bi-national partnerships with Mexico and produce a skilled cross-border workforce. By allowing Mexican residents to attend community colleges in San Diego County without having to pay out-of-state tuition fees, we are bolstering the economic health of the region and preparing students for the jobs of tomorrow.”

Neault said a 2022 study by the University of San Diego identified the California-Baja region as the largest integrated economic zone along the U.S.-Mexico border.

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