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University of Hawaii Regents Approve Treating Undocumented Students as Residents

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The University of Hawaii’s regents voted unanimously today to begin treating undocumented students as state residents, saying the lower tuition it would provide will open opportunities for youths who’ve had illegal status though they were brought to the United States as children.

The vote was unanimous, said university system spokeswoman Lynne Waters.

“Higher education is one of the most powerful pathways available to help our immigrant residents in the country cope with the adversities they encounter,” said Regent Artemio Baxa, according to a transcript of the meeting provided by the university.

Under the new policy, students will be charged in-state tuition, if they meet certain criteria.

Illegal immigrants now pay non-resident tuition of $11,000 per semester at UH’s Manoa campus. As residents, they would pay $4,000 per semester. State residents attending UH community colleges pay approximately $1,200 per semester, compared to $3,500 per semester for non-residents.

The students though will have to show that they have lived in Hawaii for at least the past 12 months, graduated from a high school in the United States and sign an affidavit saying they plan to seek legal status. The move comes as Congress and President Barack Obama are poised to begin the debate over how to allow a path toward citizenship for illegal immigrants.

Twelve other states — California, Connecticut, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, Washington — have passed similar measures.

Lui Hokoana, the university’s associate vice president for student affairs, said the immediate financial impacts on the university would be minimal. Only seven current students would see their tuition decrease, he said. However, he estimated that number could grow to about 300 because many students who now cannot afford non-resident tuition would likely enroll. 

The change is not expected to affect admissions in most instances because most programs allow anyone meeting minimum requirements to enroll. However, Hokoana said, the change could have an impact in some specialized programs that are largely limited to Hawaii residents.

According to the transcript, Regent John Holzman said, “This is absolutely an opportunity for us to do the right thing.”

Kery Murakami

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