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Governor Scott Talks Tuition With Duval County Students

Rhema Thompson

Rolando Cordova moved to the states from Lima, Peru, when he was about 6-years-old. He always believed with enough hard work, he could reach his dreams. By ninth grade, he said that dream was to study pre-medicine at the University of Florida. This year, with a 4.5 GPA, the Wolfson High School senior is ranked fifth in his graduating class and will be the first one in his family to go to college.

"I’m making my parents proud, you know, they came to this country seeking for my siblings and I to get a higher education," he said.

But for now, his dreams of attending UF will have to wait.

He's been accepted to the school, but as the child of undocumented immigrants, he'd be required to pay out-of-state tuition. The estimated $24,ooo a year cost is far out of his family's range, he said.

Instead, he'll be attending Florida International University in Miami, which allows undocumented students to pay in-state tuition costs.

"It’s sad, though, because, many of us want to go to different universities, but then, they say ‘Oh, it’s going to cost double of what a normal Florida resident,'” he said. "But I grew up here in Florida for these past 12 years...and I consider Florida my hometown."

Cordova was joined Monday morning by seven other Duval County Public Schools juniors and seniors — many of whom are also immigrants or the first in their family to attend college — to discuss the difficulty of affording the climbing rates of college tuition with Governor Rick Scott.

Scott has been traveling to school districts across the state to gain public support for the controversial Senate bill that would grant a tuition break to undocumented students.

Scott has been joined by  former governors Jeb Bush and Bob Martinez in a highly publicized push to pass the bill, since Senate President Don Gaetz and chief Joe Negron blocked the bill last week.

In addition to granting in-state tuition to undocumented students who meet certain qualifications, the measure would also prohibit Florida's public universities from imposing an annual 15 percent "differential" tuition increase on students. The annual increase was passed in 2009 as a way to help the state keep up with the national tuition average.

Monday, Scott said should the bill pass, he plans to help state universities make up the difference through performance pay.

"Part of what I have in my budget is performance funding,  tied basically to three things: What's it cost per degree given? Do you get a job when you finish? And how much money do you make?" he said. So as long as you make universities and colleges accountable, they're going to be more affordable."  

The bill in question is currently stalled in Senate as a number of Senate Republicans remain resistant to the portion granting breaks to undocumented immigrants.

But for Danesha Whitmore, a Raines High School JROTC junior and U.S. citizen, the difference in cost between this year and next year, could mean the difference between attending one of her dream schools - Florida International University - or not. She hopes to pursue a career as a registered nurse.

She’s achieved an impressive 3.8 GPA, but without financial assistance, Whitmore — who has four siblings — said college may remain simply a dream. She's applied for several scholarships, so far, but has yet to solidify any, she said.

"The cost of tuition is very expensive and the scholarships that I was supposed to receive will cover that," she said. "So if I don't receive notice from the scholarship, it will probably be  impossible to a slight chance that I will attend college."

Whitmore's mother, Tursicia Whitmore-Williams, said she just wants her daughter to see her hard work pay off.

"I don't want her to get discouraged," she said. "We teach her and want her to do well in school and take the proper classes to attend college. We don't want money to be an issue."

You can follow Rhema Thompson on Twitter @RhemaThompson

Rhema Thompson began her post at WJCT on a very cold day in January 2014 and left WJCT to join the team at The Florida Times Union in December 2014.