An Arkansas House committee has passed legislation allowing students who meet the requirements for state residency or have lived in Arkansas for a certain period of time to qualify for in-state tuition at a state-supported university.
In order to qualify, the person must be an Arkansas resident under current code or have lived in the state for three years at the time of applying for the college, and either graduated from a public or private high school in Arkansas or received the equivalent of a high school diploma in the state.
Rep. Dan Douglas, R-Bentonville, introduced the bill to the House Education Committee on Thursday. He says this bill would help Arkansas students who are not fully citizens attend Arkansas colleges without paying international tuition rates, which can be three times what in-state tuition costs. Douglas says that is harming these prospective students and the state.
"I met a group of these kids and I cried when I heard their stories of hopelessness because they can’t afford $9,000 a semester," Douglas said. "They want to live here and raise their families here and make a difference. [They want to] be doctors and engineers...productive citizens, and we’re doing them a disservice."
Douglas did add an amendment to his bill, which clarifies that the legislation does not change the residency requirement for students in Arkansas. The committee voted in favor of it.
Michael Poore, Superintendent of the Little Rock School District, spoke in favor of the bill, saying allowing these students to pay in-state tuition also helps the state’s economy.
"This makes economic sense because if we have quality students who have been in our country for more than three years and they get to stay here and that’s going to drive them to stay here because they’re going to get in-state tuition, that makes sense," Poore said.
Rep. Jana Della Rosa, R-Rogers, spoke about in-state tuition, and how it’s taxpayer funded, which includes the parents of these students wanting to not pay international tuition.
"My understanding that the point of in-state tuition has always been to reward the taxpayers who have been paying into education, higher education, roads, all this stuff in Arkansas with a lower tuition rate to encourage them to stay in the state, get educated in the state. It’s a benefit for our taxpayers," Della Rosa said.
Rep. LeAnne Burch, D-Monticello, asked Douglas whether he had heard any opposition on the bill. Douglas replied he had not.
"I’ve talked with the Education Association, the Administrators Association. Nobody has offered any opposition to this bill, whatsoever," Douglas said.
The bill passed by a voice vote, with no dissenting votes audible. It now heads to the full House for a vote, though Douglas does have to make a technical change to the bill.