HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - It's an immigration lesson at the University of Hawaii.
UH's Board of Regents is opening up the classroom to undocumented students - approving a plan that allows those students to pay in-state tuition. The decision is drawing praise from supporters and criticism from opponents.
Gabriela Andrade's main goal has been to attend UH and get her nursing degree, but tuition has been out-of-reach.
"Like me, there are so many people that can't attend school because they can't afford the international fees," says Andrade. Andrade wasn't born in the United States, but her parents brought her here as a child. Because of her background as an undocumented immigrant, she'd have to pay non-resident tuition that's three times as much as what an in-state student pays.
She says, "I grew up here and so, in my opinion, I think it's only fair that I am able to attend school. I'm not asking for any benefits. I'm not asking for any breaks. I'm just asking to get an education."
She may soon get her chance. The regents' decision is a scaled-down version of the federal Dream Act, and advocates say it makes affordable higher education available to more people.
"Making sure that we have access to higher education can only do good things for improving our economy and having more skilled workers here within our communities," says Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard.
They also believe it will boost enrollment and revenue. But opponents argue the new policy is unfair to local students and taxpayers. "The fact of the matter is they are undocumented, and I think we should bend over backwards for local students," says Republican State Senator, Sam Slom. "Tuition's going up. We're pricing local students out of the market, and this would be one more nail in the coffin."
Slom says, two years ago, the state legislature voted down a similar proposal and calls this an "end run" by the university. The new policy requires students to show proof they live in Hawaii, attend or have graduated from an American high school, and must be on the road to U.S. citizenship.
The new policy takes effect this fall.