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Wednesday, Jul 30, 2014
Education

Protesters fail to win USF support for tuition break

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Published:   |   Updated: March 6, 2014 at 04:48 PM

TAMPA — About a dozen protesters left a University of South Florida trustees’ meeting disappointed on Thursday after failing to draw action on in-state tuition for the children of illegal immigrants.

The school’s Board of Trustees expressed general support for the proposal, but the demonstrators were told the proper path for such a policy goes through the state Legislature.

“Until the legislative body acts and changes the law,” trustees are stymied, Steve Prevaux, USF’s general counsel, told the board.

The demonstrators had hoped to persuade trustees to embrace a tuition waiver program similar to one introduced at Florida International University in Miami. But that “Band-Aid,” in the words of Mark Lombardi-Nelson, student body president at USF St. Petersburg and the student member of the board of trustees, isn’t the best way to tackle the issue.

“That’s not the way to go about it,” Lombardi-Nelson told demonstrators after the meeting. “We’re doing it the right way — by going to Tallahassee.”

Students say the tuition difference can be a deal-breaker for those wanting to attend USF. Resident tuition and fees at the school’s main campus were $6,410 for a full-time student in the fall of 2013, while nonresidents paid $17,324.

Nanci Palacios said her education was put on hold after she earned an associate’s degree in health sciences at Hillsborough Community College.

“I’m not asking for free tuition. I’m not asking for financial aid,” said Palacios, who wants to pursue a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry at USF. “I’ll pay out of pocket. But I’m not going to pay three or four times more” than resident tuition.

“I’ve lived here since I was six years old.”

Several bills addressing the issue individually or as part of broader tuition packages have been moving through the state Capitol since the annual legislative session began Tuesday.

House Speaker Will Weatherford, a Republican from Wesley Chapel, has identified tuition equity as a priority, while Senate President Don Gaetz, a Republican from Niceville, has expressed opposition. Gov. Rick Scott has said only that he would consider the matter.

Demonstrators said they would head to Tallahassee for a rally later this month and to lobby for the legislation.

jstockfisch@tampatrib.com

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