April 29, 2014
A decision Tuesday by Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring has opened up some opportunities for immigrant students in the Commonwealth.
Now, some 8,100 students qualify for in-state tuition at the state's public colleges and universities.
"Yeah, I'm really excited now," said Ramiro Vazquez, an immigrant students who's been living in Virginia for nearly a decade.
Vazquez enrolled at Piedmont Virginia Community College last fall. After one semester, he had to drop out because the out-of-state tuition he was paying was too high.
"Even though I've been here for almost 10 years, I proved it the minimum that it needs to be for in-state tuition," he said.
But because he immigrated to the United States with his family and doesn't hold a U.S. citizenship, he didn't qualify for in-state tuition.
Now, that has changed.
"For many of these students, it means the difference between whether or not they can continue their education beyond high school," said Tim Freilich, the legal director for the Immigrant Advocacy Program at the Legal Aid Justice Center.
People who qualify under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program are the ones who qualify for in-state tuition. Students must first gain acceptance to the college or university, live in the commonwealth for a number of years, and maintain their DACA status.
"A lot of these students, we've invested in their K-12 education here in Virginia, and we should want them to continue their education and remain here in Virginia," Freilich said.
The Legal Aid Justice Center initially brought a lawsuit against the commonwealth in December, but put it on hold after meeting with representatives from the attorney general's office. Herring made his opinion official on Tuesday morning with a letter to the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia.
"These students will be able to pay in-state tuition just like their other Virginia classmates," Freilich said.
Vazquez, who began working full-time to save money to cover out-of-state tuition, says he's looking forward to cut back at work and re-enroll at PVCC.
"I was talking to my sister telling her she needs to enroll, because she goes to Piedmont, too," he said. "It's a big relief out of my shoulders, because I can not quit my job but have a part-time now instead of a full-time and go back to college."
Virginia has become the 20th state to enact a tuition equity program.