SAN DIEGO (Border Report) — California Assemblyman David Alvarez has introduced a bill that would allow Mexican students who live within 45 miles of the border to pay in-state tuition at community colleges in San Diego and Imperial counties.

According to Southwestern Community College administrators, the current international student rate per unit is $291.

If the bill passes — Assembly Bill 91 — students from Northern Baja California would pay $46 per unit, the same as other students with California residency.

AB-91 has begun making its way through the committee process in Sacramento.

David Alvarez is the assemblyman representing California’s 80th District. (Courtesy: David Alvarez)

“We live in a dynamic border region where we need to educate more students to fill the jobs required for growth” said Alvarez. “This bill will allow low-income residents who live close to the border to attend local community colleges.”

Community leaders and community colleges like Southwestern, located in Chula Vista, California, about 10 miles from the border, have come out in favor of the bill and are getting behind it.

“Let’s be clear, we’re not giving these students anything,” said Southwestern College President Mark Sanchez. “We’re simply allowing them to pay an in-state tuition rate, in many ways they’re already San Diegans, they just happen to live on the other side of the border.”

Sanchez told Border Report about 16 percent of the 17,000 students currently enrolled at his school live south of the border in cities like Tijuana.

Sanchez said the ability to pay lower tuition rates would benefit thousands of students.

Mark Sanchez is the President of Southwestern College in Chula Vista, Calif. (Courtesy: Southwestern College)

“I had one student in an engineering program and could no longer maintain the cost of paying the international-student fee so he had to disenroll from college and is now washing dishes,” he said. “What that represents is we’re losing our talent pool by not being able to tap into this binational market.”

Sanchez added that bi-national students are vital in order to keep the San Diego-Baja California economy thriving.

“We know there is going to be a need for a trained workforce moving forward, it’s our mission to ensure our community and our binational region has the training and preparation to fill those jobs coming online in the future.”

According to the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation, San Diego must double the number of people with post-secondary education by 2030 to meet the demands of the local economy. That equates to approximately 20,000 new skilled workers each year.

A vote on AB-91 is expected in September.