What: Senate Bill 33, also known as the ASSET bill, offers undocumented students in-state tuition
To qualify: Student must attend a Colorado high school for three years
Also, to qualify: Student must graduate from a Colorado high school or obtain a general education diploma
Also, to qualify: Student must declare intention to pursue legal immigration status
Schools: Do not have to verify the immigration status of students
Whitney's parents brought her over the border from Mexico when she was 2.
Now a junior at Boulder High, the undocumented student is working out her college plans -- plans that became more likely to become reality after Gov. John Hickenlooper last week signed the ASSET bill into law, ending a 10-year push to provide in-state tuition rates to undocumented Colorado college students.
"It's going to open more doors to us," said Whitney, who asked that her last name be withheld because of the volatility around immigration reform and to protect her family. "We're being treated equal."
She's already been selected by a school counselor for the Ascent program, which will allow her to remain enrolled at Boulder High for a fifth year and take all her classes at Front Range Community College without paying tuition. Next, she's planning to transfer to Metropolitan State University of Denver to major in criminal justice.
State Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, said he supported the ASSET bill because undocumented students deserve the same opportunities as other Colorado students.
"All we're doing is treating them like any other student who grew up here and did well," he said. "These are the people we want to keep in the state. They're very, very bright motivated young people."
To qualify, students must attend a Colorado high school for at least three years and graduate from a Colorado high school or obtain a general education diploma. They also must declare their intention to pursue legal immigration status.
"These kids are ours," said Boulder High teacher Michelle Carpenter. "They've been educated in our school district, and they're not going anywhere. We might as well continue to educate them."
With college as a real option, it takes away the excuses she hears from students that there's no reason for them to work hard and keep their grades up, she said.
"We've had kids who are disheartened and are checking out," she said. "It became a built-in excuse."
She said the students who are most excited about in-state tuition are those who are already in college and struggling to pay for it.
Lourdes, who graduated from Boulder High in 2008 and lives in Longmont, has been taking one or two classes a semester at Metro State because that's all she could afford, even working two jobs. Paying in-state tuition, she said, will allow her to become a full-time student. She's majoring in psychology.
"This will help a lot," she said. "I'm pretty happy about it. Going to college is not so much about the degree, but being an educated person and an educated woman."
While students still won't qualify for federal financial aid, Carpenter said, they at least won't have to pay three to five times the amount as in-state students.
Carpenter said she's helped one recent undocumented Boulder High graduate fundraise to attend CU -- but raising $34,000 every year isn't sustainable. Raising $10,000, she said, will be much easier.
"This will open the door to CU to more students," she said.
She said it's already difficult for first generation immigrant students to graduate from high school. Applying to college -- and figuring out how to pay for it -- can be overwhelming, she said.
But, she said, many students now will qualify for both in-state tuition and the "Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals" program approved by President Barack Obama in 2012.
The deferred action program allows those who came to the United States before they turned 16, have lived here for at least five years and are in school or graduated from high school to apply for a work permit -- opening up opportunities to work and pay for college. It's also motivation to attend college, knowing that they can legally work after graduation.
"It makes college very, very viable," Carpenter said.
April, a Boulder High senior planning to attend Front Range Community College after she graduates, said she worked hard in high school with the goal of attending college, even though she knew it would be a challenge to cover the cost.
"I'm doing it for my parents," she said. "Part of the reason they came over here was so we could have a better life. I don't want to waste what we did."
America, another senior, said she's hoping Congress will pass comprehensive immigration reform by the time she graduates from college, opening up a path to citizenship and giving her more career options.
"That's what keeps me going," she said.
None of the students interviewed said they considered moving back to Mexico. They don't know the culture or have family there, they said, and don't want to live in a country that's become increasingly violent.
"You can lose your life," said Alberto, a senior. "It's not really an option to move back. I want to start my own business someday. I want to do something for myself and my family. I don't want to give up on my dream."
Contact Camera Staff Writer Amy Bounds at 303-473-1341 or firstname.lastname@example.org.