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Undocumented college students rally against higher tuition bills

Kameel Stanley
St. Louis Public Radio

Immigration advocates say some colleges and universities in Missouri are discriminating against undocumented students by charging them higher tuition. 

Students and organizers rallied Monday outside St. Louis Community College’s downtown office, demanding officials reverse course. 


Organizer David Nehrt-Flores, of Missouri Immigrant and Refugee Advocates, said technically the schools don’t have to raise tuition, but are doing so because they are worried about state funding.


“We want these universities and colleges to show the leadership of building more access to higher education for these students so that they can continue their education,” Nehrt-Flores said.


But the community college’s general counsel, Mary Nelson, said officials have no choice.


Earlier this year, lawmakers added language to a bill that says undocumented students who live in Missouri must pay the same higher tuition rates as international students. The students used to qualify for in-state tuition if they were classified as DACA students (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals).


The college isn’t willing to jeopardize its funding by going against what the law says, Nelson said. 


“I do understand,” Nelson said Monday as the rally organizers handed over a petition with more than 300 signatures. “The college has taken a very aggressive position to provide scholarships to address that very gap.”



About 30 people rallied Monday outside St. Louis Community College's downtown office.
Credit Kameel Stanley / St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis Public Radio
About 30 people rallied Monday outside St. Louis Community College's downtown office. Organizers say STLCC and other higher education institutions around Missouri are unfairly charging undocumented students higher tuition.

St. Louis Community College student Naomi Carranza, 18, gave a similar batch of petitions to Gov. Jay Nixon’s office earlier this summer, after the bill was first approved. 


At the time, the governor’s office said the language in the education bill was not enforceable. Spokesman Scott Holste told St. Louis Public Radio on Monday that the administration’s stance hasn’t changed. 


Despite that, schools including the University of Missouri and St. Louis Community College have notified students that their bills would be higher.


Nelson said there are about 56 DACA students who are subject to the higher rates. 

Credit Kameel Stanley / St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis Public Radio
Students and immigrant advocates held signs like these at a rally Monday at STLCC.

Carranza, who is studying nursing, is one of those. She said the higher rates are prohibitive for many students.


Compared to other schools, STLCC is still very affordable, Nelson said.


Tuition for St. Louis area and Missouri students ranges from $100 to $150 a credit hour, according to the college’s website. The rate for international students is $215 a credit hour.


Nehrt-Flores said students will continue to rally, and hope to start a statewide conversation about the issue starts.

Kameel Stanley co-hosted and co-produced the We Live Here podcast—covering race, class, power, and poverty in the St. Louis Region—from 2015 to 2018.