At 8 years old, Yarenci Herrera left Mexico and moved to the United States with her family. At 17, she graduated as valedictorian from Dayton’s Ponitz Career Technology Center in June.
But when she applied for college, Herrera was told she could only attend as an international student, meaning she was required to get a student visa and would be charged double or triple what Ohioans pay for tuition.
Like thousands of other undocumented young people across the state, Herrera’s situation changed last week. On Wednesday, Ohio Chancellor John Carey issued guidance to the state’s public colleges and universities that students brought here illegally, but now in the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival program, or DACA, should be eligible for in-state tuition.
The news was celebrated as a victory by immigration activists and came as many states have done the same. Georgia, however, is one of the states currently in a fight over its policy barring students from admittance to certain colleges.
For Herrera, the change means she can pursue her studies in accounting and international business at Wright State University — where international students pay $16,546 for tuition annually and Ohio residents pay $8,542.
“It gives me a chance to go to college and pay what others pay,” she said. “It makes me feel like they’re not putting me aside.”
‘No less Ohioan’
Advocates say the issue is not only important for the students, it is vital to the state’s economic future. Ohio faces a gap between the number of residents with a college credential (35.5 percent) and the number of jobs that will require that education in the future (57 percent), according to the Lumina Foundation, a nonprofit devoted to higher education.
Hundreds of people signed a petition delivered to Carey last week by a group called DreamActivists Ohio, which said in part that students in the DACA program are being denied the opportunity to train and contribute to their state’s workforce.
“… We may not be US citizens on paper, but we are no less Ohioan than any of our high school classmates,” their letter said. “We come from hard working, tax-paying Ohio families. We are Buckeyes, not international students.”
DACA gives immigrants — who arrived here under the age of 16 and meet other requirements — legal status for two years so they can live, work and drive without fear of deportation. Carey’s letter to colleges said the students should get in-state tuition if they meet residency requirements. They may be also eligible for state aid, but do not qualify for federal financial aid because Congress did not pass the federal Dream Act.
As many as 10,000 immigrants in Ohio could be affected by the change, said Tony Ortiz, Wright State University’s assistant vice president for multicultural affairs and community engagement and leader of the Ohio Commission on Hispanic/Latino Affairs. Nationwide, there are more than 1.7 million immigrants potentially eligible for DACA, according to the Immigration Policy Center.
“These are talented individuals who have been through the school system their whole lives,” he said. “When it comes to the time when the state can benefit from the skills and talents of these kids, we’re pushing them aside.”
Jacqueline McMillan, WSU vice president for enrollment management, added that, “If you look at the workforce needs in the state, these students are some of our best and our brightest, so we want to keep them here.”
Those students are more likely to start their own business and to study science, technology, engineering and math — fields Ohio needs graduates from to stay competitive, said Carl Ruby, a former Cedarville University administrator and now an immigrant advocate with the Bibles, Badges, and Business for Immigration Reform group.
“Yahoo, Google, eBay, and Sun Microsytems are all companies started by immigrants who had access to the benefits of higher education in America,” Ruby said. “There is no reason that companies like these can’t be started in Dayton and Springfield if we provide the right incentives.”
“The Board of Regents and Attorney General DeWine should be commended for their efforts to make a college education more accessible for undocumented students from Ohio,” Ruby said. “I’m certain that they will hear a chorus of complaints from voices on the the fringe, but Ohioans who understand the positive impact that immigrants are having on our communities will welcome this decision.”
While the new ruling has provided some hope for students, there is still confusion among those who have previously been told they cannot get in-state rates.
“Their enthusiasm is a little bit overshadowed by their uncertainly about: What do we do?” said Sister Maria Stacey of the Catholic Hispanic Ministry.
She said when students first learned of the DACA program “it was like a spark. I can’t tell you how much hope it has given them. And now this… they’re going to have so much opportunity. That just trickles down because high school people now see that college is something that is attainable now.”
“I hope that people realize that these students want to better themselves and profit the United States. They love the United States,” she said.
Colleges were still awaiting more information and working to identify DACA students. Sinclair Community College spokesman Adam Murka said the school has 45 DACA students taking classes. Miami University spokeswoman Claire Wagner said the school anticipates that fewer than 10 may have applied and been accepted.
“We always seek competitive students, including those with diverse backgrounds, so we’re glad that being able to offer the in-state tuition rate opens the door to more potential students,” she said.
Chart: To see a comprehensive list of how many immigrants in Ohio and the United States are eligible to receive in-state college tuition, go to MyDaytonDailyNews.com.