Providence, R.I. __ Let’s role play: you’re an administrator at a Rhode Island state college. A local student applies and wants to pay the in-state tuition price. The student isn’t eligible for financial aid and will pay out of pocket for her education. She’s an overachiever, stacked with awards and accomplishments and all sorts of testaments to her intellect. The catch (because there is always one) is that she’s undocumented. Would you send her (and her money) out the door?
If this were 2010, you’d have to say ‘Bye’ to your potential star student (and her money). Since the passage of the in-state tuition policy by the RI Board of Governors in 2011, however, Rhode Island’s public institutions (i.e. Rhode Island College, University of Rhode Island and Community College of Rhode Island) have been able to indulge undocumented students who want to spend their hard-earned bucks on an education in Rhode Island.
“Every student who wants to participate is able to,” says CCRI Associate Director of Admissions Rob Giovino, “We spend a lot of time tracking this.”
According to Michelle DePlante of Dorcas International Institute, 56 of the 59 students who have thus far taken advantage of the policy are attending CCRI. Giovino says it’s a “win-win from a student perspective.” Nor is it a loss from an administrative perspective: while opponents of immigration love the argument that giving anything to “illegals” will inevitably sap something from a “legal” citizen, Giovino says, at worst, it’s just a little extra paperwork for admins.
Says attorney Roberto Gonzalez, “[There’s] no real financial consequence, other than a positive one,” adding that undocumented students are not really being “given” anything with this policy. “Most [students] went to CCRI, an open-admissions school. We’re not bumping someone.” DePlante agrees, nothing that enrollment is “fairly low” or “still expensive” for most undocumented students.1 Representative Grace Diaz echoes these ideas, saying that public colleges can accept undocumented students “without jeopardizing regular students’ seats or acceptance to college.”
RIC has welcomed the policy. “We made sure we communicated this [to our staff] well,” says Assistant Vice President of Academic Affairs Holly Shadoian, “We’re really committed to recruiting Latino students.”
RIC currently only has one student who has taken advantage of this policy: a class valedictorian and Presidential Scholar who’s paying for her schooling with a nice collection of scholarships.
“There’s a story in there,” says Shadoian.
As the policy ages and more students reap its opportunities, there will likely be similar stories. Undocumented students won’t have to fear that their academic career will end in a dimly-hit high-school auditorium.
“Some of these students wouldn’t have come [to college] otherwise,” says Shadoian.
Alex Castro, RWU ‘14
1: Since the time of this interview Dan McGowan of WPRI News has reported more recent numbers that a total of 74 students have taken advantage of the in-state tuition policy.