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Moore rules immigrants’ children won’t pay out-of-state tuition

Contributing Writer

Published: Sunday, September 16, 2012

Updated: Sunday, September 16, 2012 15:09

This month, Judge K. Michael Moore determined that Florida students who cannot prove the legal status of their parents cannot, as a result, be charged higher out-of-state tuition. The policy, he said, violates the equal protection clause of the Constitution.

As an out-of-state student, freshman Haley Theroux estimates that her UCF tuition, room and board and meal plan total nearly $30,000 a year. She has mixed feelings on the ruling.

“It’s difficult for me to understand how Florida can afford to have such low in-state tuition in the first place,” Theroux said. “But if the state can afford it, so much so that they can offer it to students whose parents don’t contribute in federal taxes, why is the out-of-state tuition as high as it is?”

Theroux is from Rhode Island, where in-state college expenses typically round out to about $15,000 a year. In Pennsylvania, students at Penn State University pay the highest in-state tuition in the country; their fees add up to more than $20,000.

For a UCF student with a full-time course load of 12 credits, the in-state tuition per semester is $2,498.76, while students who are taking the same amount of courses but are charged out-of-state fees are paying $8,938.08.

“One thing that’s really different about going to school here is that I hear students all the time talking about struggling to afford college,” Theroux said.

Up North, she said, the tuition is much higher and there aren’t scholarship programs like Bright Futures or prepaid programs, but families generally plan in advance and anticipate the cost. The lack of a prepaid program also allowed her to explore college options outside of her home state.

“I question how well the [prepaid] system is really working and how much Florida is really providing for its residents when they’re still having trouble paying a tuition cost that’s so much lower than it is in other places,” she said.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Florida’s 22.9 percent Hispanic population rate is notably higher than the national average; Latino culture is predominant in many Florida areas, particularly in the South.

A 2009 study published by the Department of Homeland Security found that an overwhelming majority of undocumented immigrants originate from Mexico. Florida, according to the study, has the third highest estimated illegal population in the nation, higher even than Arizona and New York. In California, which has the highest estimated count of undocumented immigrants, a similar court case also resulted in favor of the students.

The ruling impacts nearly 9,000 public college and university students per year whose parents’ citizenship statuses cannot be proven. The regulations against children of undocumented immigrants “deny a benefit and create unique obstacles to attain post-secondary public education for U.S. citizen children who would otherwise qualify for in-state tuition,” Moore said.

Earlier this year, Florida students rallied in Tallahassee to protest tuition increases and cuts to the Bright Futures scholarship program. In his speech, Florida Senate President Mike Haridopolos emphasized the importance of affordable education and noted that the state is committed to keeping expenses low.

“For those who don’t know, Florida has the fifth lowest tuition in the United States today,” he told students.

Jerri Katzerman, legal director of the Southern Poverty Law Center, said it is only right that children of undocumented immigrants receive that same low tuition cost. She called Moore’s ruling a victory for thousands of students.

“He has said in no uncertain terms that these youngsters are citizens and they have been discriminated against,” she said.

Theroux agrees that no student should face discrimination — including those who are from out of state.

“It’s difficult for me to understand why they only want to eliminate obstacles for certain students,” Theroux said. “My parents pay federal taxes, but I’m out of state. I feel like my tuition is single-handedly paying for other people to go to college.” 

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