SAN DIEGO (Border Report) — California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday signed Assembly Bill 91 into law, clearing the way for Mexican students who live within 45 miles of the border to pay in-state tuition at community colleges in San Diego and Imperial Counties.

The bill was first introduced by Assemblyman David Alvarez earlier this year.

“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.”

Zaneta Encarnacion, chief of staff at Southwestern Community College in Chula Vista, California, said students from Mexico who qualify for the program will pay around $1,400 in tuition instead of the roughly $6,000 they would normally pay.

Zaneta Encarnacion is the chief of staff for Southwestern College President Mark Sanchez. The college is located in Chula Vista, California. (Salvador Rivera/Border Report)

“Before this bill, you’d pay triple the amount of tuition that you would end up paying if you were in-state. So, a student 10 miles south of us would be paying much more than a student 10 miles north of us,” she said. “That’s not fair to our economy and not fair to these students who are trying to pursue their education.”

Encarnacion says expanding affordable access to our region’s community colleges will increase the region’s workforce and contribute to the economy on both sides of the border.

“We are a binational region where people live, work, contribute on both sides of the border,” she said. “We need to be able to remove barriers for students so they have the ability to stay in college, seek higher education and to really be part of this thriving binational region we have.”

Encarnacion told Border Report it’s hard to say how many students enrolled at Southwestern College are from Tijuana.

Southwestern Community College students outside the school’s library on Oct. 17, 2023, in Chula Vista, Calif. (Salvador Rivera/Border Report)

“Currently we only have self-reporting data, the last survey was in 2018 and 800 students reported themselves as living in Tijuana,” said Encarnacion. “So this is going to give us an opportunity to have a better tracking and reporting system.”

But not everyone is happy with the idea, including El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells.

“This is emblematic of a growing pattern in our county, state, and country, where the needs of U.S. citizens are being disregarded,” Wells said in a statement. “The state of California extends in-state tuition benefits to individuals from Mexico — the message is abundantly clear to all Americans: many politicians seem to be out of touch with the people they represent.”

El Cajon is a city in eastern San Diego County with about 103,000 residents.

California in-state tuition will be available to students from Northern Baja for five years. At that point, the program will be re-evaluated.