Why Tuition Equity - and a Democratic Majority - is important for Oregon

By Lupita Maurer of Aloha, Oregon. Lupita Maurer was born in Mexico City. She became a U.S. citizen and a Democrat in 1995. She was a member of the Oregon Council for Civil Rights from 2009-2011 and was appointed to the Oregon Commission on Hispanic Affairs by Governor Kitzhaber. She is a member of the Democratic National Committee. In 2011, she contributed "Why Tuition Equity Matters"

In 2011, I shared my personal immigration story on BlueOregon and voiced my whole-hearted support for Tuition Equity. Senate Bill 742 would have provided in-state tuition to motivated, high-achieving students in Oregon, regardless of their documentation status.

But that legislation – SB 742 – failed in the Oregon House of Representatives in 2011. Tuition Equity legislation was first introduced in 2003, but it failed in the House then, too.

This year – with Democrats controlling the House and the Senate, as well as a Democratic Governor – it looks like we will finally have fair access to affordable tuition in Oregon, and I could not be prouder.

I was a teenager the first time I came to this country. I traveled from Mexico to visit my mother, who was living here legally but struggling to make a decent living. I remained in the U.S., working with her to clean houses. It was honest work, but our life here was vulnerable and scary because I overstayed my tourist visa.

After seeing most Mexican women in my family divorced, abandoned, and without a solid career to support them, I decided my ticket to a secure economic future would be through education.

More than anything, I wanted to complete the Computer Science degree I had begun in Mexico. But the money we made cleaning houses was not much, and we could not afford the non-resident tuition.

Then, the California Supreme Court and the Cal State University system gave me my big break. The Court decided that undocumented immigrants would be eligible for in-state tuition rates at the state's colleges and universities. I was accepted to finish my degree at Cal State University, East Bay in 1990. If I had not been offered the affordable, in-state tuition rate, I would not have been able to attend.

Now Oregon is also on its way to join California and 13 other states that have already passed legislation to help more students afford higher education. House Bill 2787 passed the House with a vote of 38 – 18 in February, and today it passed the Senate 19 – 11. After Republicans blocked its passage in 2003 and 2011, Tuition Equity will finally make it to the Governor’s desk – one decade after it was first introduced.

I graduated Magna Cum Laude with a Bachelor’s in Computer Science and was immediately hired as an engineer at Silicon Graphics. Now, I often speak to middle school girls on the importance of math and science, hoping to inspire them to follow these career paths so that the United States can remain strong in the future. I am deeply involved in my community, devoted to the country where my children have been born, and support my church. Knowing that I am indebted to this wonderful country, I gladly pay considerable taxes, which I hope will be used to help others as I was once helped.

This country gave me the opportunity to get ahead and opened its arms to me. I’m proud to share my story and demonstrate how Tuition Equity enables hard-working young people to give back to Oregon, as I hope I have.

Tuition Equity will help our young people succeed and our communities thrive, and I want to commend the Oregon Democrats who have shown years of leadership on this legislation. Thank you for making the right vote for Oregon’s future.

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