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Students advocate for tuition equality

By Paige Pearcy, Daily News Editor
Published February 16, 2012

When LSA freshman Daniel Morales was first admitted to the University, he deferred the start of his freshman year because his family couldn’t afford the out-of-state tuition rate without financial aid.

At the time, Morales was an undocumented resident.

Due to his lack of citizenship, Morales, who attended high school in Michigan, was not offered in-state tuition or financial aid. Yesterday, Morales told the University’s Board of Regents his story at its monthly meeting, advocating for a policy change that would allow undocumented Michigan residents to pay in-state tuition.

Currently, undocumented students must pay out-of-state tuition and are not eligible for financial aid.

This year, the cost difference between the in-state and out-of-state rate for a full-time LSA freshman is about $25,000.

“For the first time in my life, I came close to giving up,” Morales said. “But students like myself, the thousands of us who graduate from Michigan high schools every year with the hopes of bettering our communities and lives, do not simply give up. I was an American at heart and more definitely, I was a wolverine.”

Morales addressed the board during the public comments section of the meeting and spoke about his struggle to attend the University.

“I come here today to proudly tell you my story because it represents the absolute complexity of this issue,” Morales said at the meeting. “I am here today because we would like to work with you to remedy this injustice, alleviate inequal access to higher education for undocumented students and to invest in a rich and truly diverse experience for all Michigan students.”

Morales spoke on behalf of the Coalition for Tuition Equality, a student organization founded by Public Policy junior Kevin Mersol-Barg when he started his term last fall as an LSA representative in Central Student Government.

Mersol-Barg, who is running for CSG president, said he hopes the regents will collaborate with the coalition.

“I’m hoping that they reciprocate our offer to work with them, that they would too want to work with us,” Mersol-Barg said. “When Daniel spoke they looked very receptive.”

Morales echoed Mersol-Barg’s sentiments, and said in an interview after the meeting he hopes the University will work with the organization to increase college accessibility and affordability for all students.

“My biggest hope is that they will work with our coalition to craft a new policy which is more inclusive to all students from the state of Michigan, and that we can regain our status as a progressive and fair school that gives any student who is deserving of that education a great education.”

Mersol-Barg said he formed the coalition, which is comprised of representatives from various student groups, because he saw an injustice and wanted to fix it. He said the number of undocumented students at the University is not possible to determine but is likely very small, which could be due to their difficulties affording tuition.

“This is a pressing issue for students not only here at the University but even more students that are very talented and bright and can’t be here,” Mersol-Barg said.

After the speech, Morales said though he was nervous before he spoke, the nerves faded as he began talking and he received positive feedback from the regents and people in attendance at the meeting.

“Once I was up there, and once I began to speak, I was kind of amazed at the positive receptiveness of the entire board of regents as a whole,” Morales said. “I felt they were very receptive to the overall message once I was finished delivering the speech.”

In his speech, Morales said during the year he deferred his enrollment, he sought and received residency, which qualified him to pay the in-state rate.

“As soon as I mentioned how my acceptance to the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor was riding on this, the ICE agent’s eyes shot up from his desk, and he smiled; he was a Michigan Wolverine,” Morales said.

At the end of Morales’s speech when he mentioned the different student organizations that contribute to the coalition, members stood up around the room holding signs naming their representative groups — including Central Student Government, American Civil Liberties Union-Undergraduate Chapter, Latino Students Organization and Muslim Students’ Association — then walked out of the Regents' Room on the first floor of the Fleming Administration Building.

Though the timer went off that indicated Morales’s five-minutes of allotted speaking time was up, the room remained silent, and he quickly finished the last few sentences of his speech.

Upon commencing his speech, regents Laurence Deitch (D–Bingham Farms) and Andrea Fischer Newman (R–Ann Arbor) commended him and the members of the coalition for attending the meeting.

Morales said he was encouraged to speak at the regents meeting by E. Royster Harper, vice president for student affairs, at a town hall meeting on Feb. 8.

“I went directly to the source because I thought that was the way that change can come about,” Morales said.


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