On May 19th, the Adelante coalition hosted the Undocugraduation event at the North Carolina General Assembly in downtown Raleigh. The event included a graduation ceremony for undocumented students and county-based lobbying by attendees, English-Spanish interpreting was also available during the event. The event kicked off at 9:30 with Nadeen Bir from Student Action with Farmworkers discussing the issue of the day: tuition equality. For undocumented students in North Carolina, heading to college within state lines means paying out of state tuition, which is four times the normal in-state tuition. “At UNC,” Nadeen said, “in-state tuition is eight thousand dollars. Out of state tuition is thirty-two thousand.”.
Undocumented students, no matter how long they had been residents of North Carolina, are not considered to be qualified for the lower in-state rates. On the other hand, documented students need only to prove two years residence in North Carolina in order to pay in-state tuition. The effect is this: higher education is made essentially impossible to undocumented students and their families. The financial strain either discourages students from ever attending school or drains their savings after their first year. A community without the equal chance to attend college results in systemic loss. For undocumented students, it means the loss of opportunity, experience, and growth. For the state of North Carolina, it means the loss of economic development. More educated North Carolinians means an enhanced workforce and taxbase. Empowering students with equal access to in-state education will enrich the state with a generation of self-sustaining, productive, bilingual, bicultural, and and learned workers.
“Share your stories,” was one of the tenets of the lobbying-training. Before groups dispersed based on county, the audience was taught how to approach the North Carolina Senators, Representatives, and their legal assistants. The goal of the day was to approach members of the assembly about a certain set of bills that would increase access to college. One of the main bills is HB 1081, the Tuition Fairness Act, sponsored by Democrat Representative Meyer and Republican Representative Jeter. This bipartisan bill would allow students access to in-state tuition if they attended school in North Carolina for at least three years in a row prior to graduation, received a high school graduation or GED in North Carolina, and obtained at least a 2.7 GPA upon graduation. Before the lobbying groups broke out, Representative Jeter and Representative Meyer came to address the crowd. They took questions about lobbying and the bill, but they also motivated the mission at hand. Both Jeter and Meyer expressed the deep importance of tuition equality as well as the bipartisan work that it will take to achieve it.
When the lobbying groups dispersed to their various appointments, the Wake county group approached Republican Representative Avila, the Deputy Majority Leader. Speaking with her was a breakthrough for the coalition and their mission; Avila has critical sway among her peers that could mean important advancement of HB 1081. The group introduced themselves and discussed the bill and tuition equality, including a testimonial from a NC State student in which she described the fiscal difficulty or remaining in school to achieve her dreams. “I just want to be able to contribute,” she said to Representative Avila. The meeting ended with Representative Avila shaking the students’ hands and encouraging them to continue the good work.
The event continued with the graduation ceremony and workshops for the attendees. To learn more about tuition equality and the Let’s Learn NC project visit Adelante’s website here.