PROVIDENCE – Victor Morente’s journey to a college degree would have been a lot easier if he and his family hadn’t struggled with out-of-state tuition fees at Community College of Rhode Island.
Morente, who is now the spokesperson for the state’s education ministry, told his story during the signing ceremony of a bill that allows undocumented students to pay tuition fees in the three state public colleges.
Seventeen years in the making, the law codifies a policy approved by the Rhode Island Board of Governors for Education in 2011.
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Under the Student Success Act, students are eligible if they have attended high school for three or more consecutive years, graduated from high school, or received a Rhode High School Equivalency Diploma. Island and continue to reside in the state. Students must also file an affidavit stating that they will apply for legal immigration status as soon as they become eligible.
Morente emigrated from Guatemala to Providence when he was 6 years old. Although he lived in Rhode Island for years and graduated from high school, he was not eligible for resident tuition as an undocumented student. After years of savings, her family still couldn’t afford full-time tuition, so Morente reduced her degree one course at a time.
“I was in limbo for 16 years,” he told the CIRB press conference on Monday. “No matter how good my grades were, no matter how hard I studied, I was not eligible for tuition or financial aid.”
Some days Morente felt desperate, but he used his voice to testify on behalf of State Representative Grace Diaz’s Bill. He said he remembers the insults hurled at him and others during legislative hearings.
He became a legal resident in time to attend Rhode Island College, where he graduated in 2014. After becoming a US citizen, he continued the fight for students like himself.
“All they want is a chance to improve,” he told the crowd. “We refuse to stay in the shadows.
Diaz told a similar story, arriving in Rhode Island with limited English.
She remembered speaking to the Central Fall 2007 class. Several students cried because they knew college was an unaffordable dream.
“I promised them that would change,” she said. “They became my motivation. Today we are writing history. Now they don’t have to cry anymore.
About 800 undocumented students have graduated from public colleges in Rhode Island since the Board of Governors revised its policy 10 years ago. By making a law, supporters said it would prevent the policy from being easily overthrown.
“The enactment of the Student Success Act provides an opportunity for undocumented high school students to continue their education and become leaders in our community, our economy and our state,” said Elizabeth Burke Bryant, Executive Director of Kids Count , a non-profit organization for children. advocacy group. “Today we have heard countless stories from former students and community leaders for whom this policy has made all the difference. ”
Bill co-sponsor Senator Sandra Cano moved here from Colombia when she was 6 and went on to graduate from Bryant University and the Graduate Program in Public Administration at the University of Rhode Island.
“Our state motto is hope,” she said. “This bill illustrates the hope we have for Rhode Island. For many immigrant children, you will become the next rulers of our state. This fight is yours.
Linda Borg covers education for the Journal.