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News Clips 07/16/2014
Qualified undocumented students in Florida now able to pay in-state tuition
Source: USA Today, 07/15/14
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By Ben Sheffler
A new Florida law that went into effect July 1 allows the state’s undocumented students to pay in-state tuition at its colleges and universities, as long as they meet certain criteria.
To qualify for in-state tuition, an undocumented student must have attended a Florida secondary school for three consecutive years, graduated high school in the same time frame and applied to colleges within 24 months of graduation.
Qualified undocumented students, however, are still considered non-residents but will receive an out-of-state fee waiver.
The number of non-resident students cannot exceed 10% of the State University System student population, so once that number is met, even undocumented students who meet the above requirements might have to pay out-of-state tuition, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. These students also aren’t eligible for state financial aid.
Liana Guerra, president of the Hispanic Student Association at the University of Florida, who also formed a group last year at UF called Gators for Tuition Equity to lobby for and support in-state tuition for undocumented students, says that because the law still considers undocumented students as non-residents, it will “continue to bar a majority of Florida’s undocumented population from pursuing higher education.”
Many of the students that will qualify under the law were either born as U.S. citizens, but have undocumented parents, or they were brought to Florida as children and have been through the state’s educational system.
“It is wrong to treat undocumented students as equal to their peers throughout K-12 and left out to dry once they graduate high school,” Guerra says. “No child who grew up in America should have limited future social and economic mobility because of a decision they did not make.”
One such student, Mariana Castro, came to Florida from Peru with her parents when she was 10 years old. She graduated in the top 10% of her high school class and was awarded a Bright Futures Scholarship. And then it was taken away because she’s an undocumented student.
Castro, now 20, was able to attend UF last fall, but because of high costs was unable to continue in the spring. With the Bright Futures Scholarship and in-state tuition, she said she’d only have to pay approximately $3,000 for tuition each semester at UF instead of the estimated $6,000, which she called doable. According to UF’s website, out-of-state undergraduate students “should add $22,278 to projected tuition/fees” for the 2014-15 school year.
Castro said she still won’t be able to afford UF without the Bright Futures Scholarship and is planning to attend a community college this fall.
Florida had an estimated 950,000 undocumented immigrants in 2012, making it the third highest in the country, according to the Pew Research Center. And according to UF’s website, Hispanics made up the second largest demographic of incoming freshman in 2011 at 17.5%.
Just an estimated 5 to 10% of the approximately 65,000 undocumented students who graduate high school across the country each year go on to attend college, either because they can’t afford it or aren’t allowed to enroll, according to the Immigration Policy Center.
“By removing this barrier to education and making college more affordable, states will be able to reduce the high school dropout rate and increase college attainment among undocumented students,” Guerra says.
There are 17 other states that have laws that provide assistance to undocumented students, and Guerra points to California and Texas as models for other states.
“Both states have been providing all qualified undocumented students with in-state tuition and financial aid for over ten years while having the largest undocumented populations in the country,” she says.
“This law is definitely a step in the right direction,” Guerra says, “but Florida still has a long way to go in the immigrants rights movement.”