JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – With the fall semester set to begin in weeks for many Missouri colleges and universities, students whose parents brought them illegally to the U.S. still face uncertainty regarding financial aid for the upcoming school year.
At issue are two pieces of legislation passed by the state’s Republican-led Legislature this session: one blocking the A+ Scholarship from going to those immigrants and another that also sought to require schools to charge those students their international rate of tuition.
State officials, lawmakers and others disagree on whether the changes are in effect for the upcoming school year. That uncertainty, state officials and a group aimed at helping students pay for college say, could mean surprises and higher-than-expected tuition bills for some immigrants.
Missouri’s Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon earlier this month vetoed the bill that would require students be permanent residents or legal citizens to receive the state’s A+ Scholarship, which provides two years of free tuition at community colleges for students who complete community service and attain a certain grade-point average, among other requirements. A memo from Department of Higher Education Commissioner David Russell sent this past week confirmed that means the scholarships still are available to those immigrant students.
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But in practice, the status of the scholarship is not certain.
Lawmakers might try to override Nixon’s veto with a two-thirds majority vote during an upcoming Sept. 16 session.
An override could mean some immigrant students, likely already enrolled by the time of a possible September veto, pay more than they planned for in tuition, said Karissa Anderson, the manager of advocacy and policy research at the Scholarship Foundation of St. Louis.
That’s because colleges are reimbursed the students’ tuition by the state, Department of Higher Education Deputy Commissioner Leroy Wade said, and schools have until early January to request reimbursement.
Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick, a Shell Knob Republican who handled the bill in the House, said it’s unclear whether any students would have had enough time to qualify for the scholarship anyway since a Department of Higher Education rule change clarifying certain immigrant students’ eligibility for the program went into effect in March.
Further complicating matters is disputed language in a budget bill passed this year that also was aimed at blocking state-funded scholarships from going to students with an unlawful immigration status and requiring that public colleges and universities charge those students their international tuition rate.
Russell’s memo notes that the policy, included in what’s called the title of a bill outlining the budget for the department but not in the core of the legislation, is not legally binding in terms of offering the A+ Scholarship. The memo did not offer guidance on the applicability of the tuition rate requirement, leaving that up to colleges.
“The language is pretty explicit,” said Fitzpatrick, who is vice chair of a House budget committee. “If the department chooses to ignore it, then I’m sure we'll take that into consideration when we write the budget next year.”
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that certain immigrant students attending the University of Missouri-St. Louis, for example, no longer qualify for the resident and metropolitan rate of tuition. For students this fall, that would mean paying about $10,200 for 12 credit hours instead of about $4,000.
Chancellor Thomas George has said the university will use private funds from the school’s endowment for the next two years to make up the difference in tuition for current students, the newspaper reports.
Anderson said the Scholarship Foundation now is also advising immigrant students without lawful status that out-of-state public colleges, such as universities in Illinois, or private colleges might be a cheaper option.