By Manon Lane
Five Trevecca students and a staff member spent a day at the state capitol advocating for the passage of a tuition equality bill in the Tennessee General Assembly.
They joined 150 students and educators, from around the state at the Tuition Equality Day on the Hill.
The legislation, which would allow qualifying immigrant students without legal status to pay in-state tuition at public universities, has been approved by committees in the House and Senate, and has bi-partisan support.
“I feel good that there is a change coming for those students who need it, also I feel good that we made a change together and students will be able to afford college,” said senior Sam Bell, a psychology major at Trevecca, who participated in the event.
Nationally, more than 1 million immigrant children without legal status reportedly live in the United States. Roughly 65,000 graduate from high school each year, but experts estimate that fewer than 6,500 go on to attend college, according to an August 2014 article in U.S. News and World Report.
At Trevecca, around 40 immigrant students without legal status are enrolled in courses. Trevecca officials say they work to offer these students the same scholarship opportunities as other students to help make up for a lack of federal financial aid.
The advocates for tuition equality walked the halls of Legislative Plaza, passing lobbyists, members of congress, and school groups. They met with lawmakers and hosted a press conference.
Rebecca Merrick, international student advisor and assistant coordinator of disability services at Trevecca, was part of one of the 12 groups that met with elected officials in an attempt to provide examples and stories of students who would benefit from the bill.
“We got to go in [Sen. Ferrell Haile’s] office and sit down, and have his attention,” said Merrick. “He acknowledges it’s an issue that needs to be addressed.”
Cesar Bautista, youth organizer for Tennessee Immigrants and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC), organized Tuition Equality Day on the Hill to give students a chance to share their story, and work for change.
“We wanted to bring students from across the state of Tennessee, so they could speak to their representatives, so they can hear from the students that will benefit from the bill. Students that want to become doctors, want to become engineers, lawyers; and that they want to have a better future,” said Bautista. “This bill will definitely make that possible for them.”
Trevecca freshman, Jazmin Ramirez is on the board of directors at TIRRC, and led her group, number 11, through the maze of Legislative Plaza.
“You have to remember, you guys are making history,” said Ramirez as she met with her group, before taking on Capitol Hill.