Home»Opinion»Opinion: In-State Tuition Should be Offered to Students From Puerto Rico

Opinion: In-State Tuition Should be Offered to Students From Puerto Rico

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Meghan Mahar

Earlier this month, Governor Andrew Cuomo requested that the SUNY system offer in-state tuition to students in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands due to Hurricane Maria and Hurricane Irma. The SUNY trustees unanimously approved his call. Students are normally required to establish residency in the State of New York for at least one year before they can apply for in-state tuition at a SUNY institution.

This change for the 2017-18 academic year will reduce these student’s cost of tuition by $10,000. Similar plans were issued to students affected by the earthquake in Haiti back in 2010 as well as those affected by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

I agree with the governor’s choice. There are roughly 215 students from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and many of those students may have lost their homes and everything they own. I am proud of the SUNY system for making this tuition plan possible. Puerto Rico alone can be facing $45 – $95 billion in damage from Hurricane Maria and Hurricane Irma.

The LA Times reported that 85% of Puerto Rican residents still remain without power, and 40% are still without drinking water. I could not imagine facing this burden while also figuring out how to pay roughly $16,000 to send my child to college.

It has also been reported by PBS that the federal government will be covering 100% of the cost of debris removal along with other emergency efforts. This same article states that President Trump made a promise to cover 100% for the first 30 days and then 90% for 90 days after that.

Meanwhile, he tells Puerto Rico that “aid won’t last.” It has been reported that money sent to the U.S. Virgin Islands for disaster relief was spent on other things. However, I do not think that college students or their families who may now be suffering should pay the price.   

Other colleges outside of the SUNY system have started to adopt similar policies and I hope the trend continues to spread. The change will only be in effect for one year, (unless SUNY extends it) and it is a necessity to these students right now. $10,000 in a year can make a huge difference for a family who has suffered such a devastating loss.

I do not feel that anyone who has never experienced this has the right to judge the governor’s decision. Students who are from out-of-state and paying the difference in tuition may feel that it is unfair to them. I can understand where they are coming from, however, their hometowns have not just been destroyed. As Americans, we need to help our people when they need it. We can’t forget that Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are a part of this country too.

As noted above, this will last one year unless the SUNY Board feels it needs to be extended. I think that this is giving the impacted families plenty of time to recover from the destruction and financial burden. In my opinion, the federal government did not do enough to help Puerto Rico. Although it’s been reported that they have assisted the U.S. Virgin Islands, it will still not undo the damage and devastation that these people faced. I think it is great that Governor Cuomo decided to help in such a way.  

On the SUNY website they have an article titled “SUNY Board of Trustees Authorizes In-State Tuition for Students from Puerto Rico & the U.S. Virgin Islands Displaced by the Hurricanes.” In this article is a statement from the SUNY Board Chairman that read “SUNY has a responsibility, as a public institution, to step in and help students when circumstances beyond their control may affect their ability to attend, pay for, and succeed in college.”

I see it as SUNY stepping up for their students to help lighten the load after a natural disaster. It would be disappointing and even heart-breaking if a student could not return or start college because their family can no longer pay for it. I think SUNY deserves a round of applause.

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