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SPC President Bill Law celebrates the tuition equity bill with Celeste Pioqunito, Nancy Hernandez and Jose Flores.

SPC President Bill Law celebrates the tuition equity bill with Celeste Pioqunito, Nancy Hernandez and Jose Flores.

St. Petersburg College graduate Celeste Pioquinto will save an estimated $18,000 a year in tuition when she heads to Florida Polytechnic University this fall thanks to the tuition equity bill passed this year by the Florida Legislature. Her $5,000 annual tuition cost will actually be covered by a scholarship and is a far cry from the $23,000 she would have paid as an out-of-state student.

Celeste Pioqunito

Celeste Pioqunito

“For this bill to pass, it’s such a big part of my life,” said Pioquinto, who earned her A.A. degree from SPC’s Early College Program this spring. “Not only is this bill good for all the students who just graduated, but for all the future generations coming up.”

The tuition equity bill, known as the Florida Dream Act, allows some children of undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition rates, which are about one-quarter the amount paid by non-Florida residents. To celebrate the bill’s passage, key sponsors of the bill, including Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, and Rep. Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater, were honored Tuesday morning at SPC’s Clearwater Campus.

“I’m happy we were able to deliver this,” said Latvala, who kicked off the effort to pass the bill at the Clearwater Campus in February. “I hope this is the first step of trying to bring more equity across the board to the diverse population that we have here in Florida.”

SPC graduate Nancy Hernandez told the audience of more than 100 students, faculty, administrators and community members the impact is immeasurable.

Nancy Hernandez

Nancy Hernandez

“So many students are saving their money to go to school, and with this bill, their lives have been changed, and will be changed forever,” said Hernandez, who is majoring in communications at the University of South Florida. “This is the moment, this is my dream, this is their dream. The dream I have been waiting to live has become a reality.”

Latvala’s inspiration for supporting the bill stemmed from his desire to connect with heavily Hispanic precincts in his district. At an ensuing community forum, he heard the story of a Clearwater woman who had attended a Pinellas County medical magnet school program, but could not afford to attend a state university or medical school.

“The limiting factor was the fact that her parents were illegals,” said Latvala, who co-sponsored a similar bill that failed last year. He also came across a newspaper opinion piece supporting the measure penned by House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel.

“If a young Republican politician who’s going to take a lot of heat within his party for sponsoring and pushing an issue like this can do that, then the least I can do is help him.”

Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, celebrates the Florida Dream Act at the Clearwater Campus Tuesday.

Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, celebrates the Florida Dream Act at the Clearwater Campus Tuesday.

On the House side, Rep. Jeanette Nuñez sponsored the bill, which ended up being packaged with other measures to ensure support. Versions of the tuition bill had been introduced since 2003 and drew strong opposition every time.

The new law also eliminates automatic inflation adjustments for tuition and blocks most state universities from raising their differential tuition rates. The law also reduces the costs of Florida Prepaid College Plans, dropping the price of the 4-Year Florida University Plan by nearly $20,000, from its current price of $54,000.

“Senator Latvala builds bridges and is one of the few people in the Florida Legislature that gets things done,” said Deveron Gibbons, chair of the SPC Board of Trustees. “I think it’s phenomenal that Celeste is going to pay $30 whereas before she would have paid $23,000.”

New and current SPC students with questions about the impact of the new legislation can contact a student advisor. Students can work through the college’s admissions processes to establish residency for tuition purposes. Required documentation will include a Florida high school transcript reflecting three consecutive years’ attendance and proof of graduation within the past two years.

“The impact of this historic legislation is going to have a direct affect on the future of this state, of this county, and most of all in the lives of the many thousands of children that want a better life and a better community,” said Maria Edmonds, chair of the Hispanic Leadership Council. “Now, their dreams, years in the making, have come true and will become a reality.”

SPC President Bill Law added, “This law upholds a promise to students – the promise of access to degrees and certificates that can change their lives.”

Watch the event on the college’s YouTube channel:

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SPC will host a celebration recognizing the work of state Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, on a tuition equity bill that allows children of undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition. The event is scheduled for June 24 at 10 a.m. at SPC’s Clearwater Campus Ethics & Social Science Building, Room 104.

Latvala and Rep. Jeanette Nuñez, R-Miami, sponsored the hotly debated bill, which had been introduced in various versions in the Legislature since 2003. On June 9, Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed the bill into law, which potentially saves students an annual average of $15,278 at state universities and $6,438 at Florida colleges, according to a legislative analysis. The in-state tuition rate is about one-quarter the amount paid by non-Florida residents.

To qualify for the waiver of out-of-state fees, undocumented immigrants and others must have attended a Florida secondary school for at least three straight years before graduating. They then have 24 months to apply to a college.

New and current SPC students with questions about the impact of the new legislation can contact a student advisor. Students can work through the college’s normal intake processes to establish residency for tuition purposes. Required documentation will include a Florida high school transcript reflecting three consecutive years’ attendance and proof of graduation within the past two years.

SPC will honor Latvala for his efforts on the new legislation at the college’s Clearwater Campus, the same location where he announced in February that he would sponsor the bill. Speakers will include SPC President Bill Law and SPC Clearwater Campus Provost Stan Vittetoe. SPC students and alumni will attend and discuss how the law will impact them and their families.

Student success has been a top priority for administrators and staff at SPC and recent data shows those efforts are paying off. For the past three spring semesters, success rates for students in all courses have increased. Gains among first-time-in-college students are more dramatic, with African-American and Hispanic/Latino males making the greatest academic improvements.

Comparing data from Spring 2012 to this year’s spring semester, success rates were up by 15.8 percent for Hispanic/Latino males. The rate for African-American males climbed 16 percent during the same timeframe. The college has tracked a narrowing or elimination of the gap between success rates for these student ethnic groups compared to white students.

SPC is ranked within the top 100 colleges and universities for the enrollment of Hispanic students in undergraduate programs, according to information from The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education Magazine.

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St. Petersburg College will be able to maintain its open door policy and commitment to student success while tuition remains unchanged.

At its May meeting the Board of Trustees approved an operating budget for the 2014-2015 year, calling for a freeze in tuition increases. Additional resources to support the college’s student success initiative were funded through the college’s existing budget.

“It’s our commitment to ensure that all students have the resources they need to be successful and to finish what they start. We uphold that commitment again this year by holding the line on our tuition,” said SPC President Dr. Bill Law.

SPC’s tuition was 53 percent less than state universities in the 2013-2014 year. The college will be able to support student access and success, and renew and refresh important instructional technologies. This approach will allow students to benefit from support beyond the classroom and ensure that all students have access to quality and affordable education.

Students can apply now online at spcollege.edu/apply.

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St. Petersburg College has received $43,750 from the Florida State College Foundation to be used for scholarships to the college.

Dr. Tom Furlong and Joe Lang present the scholarship checks from the Florida State College Foundation

The presentation was made Tuesday at the Board of Trustees meeting. To see only this portion of the meeting, start at the 5:10 point of the video.

“The Florida College System Foundation has done an outstanding job developing relationships with statewide funders for the benefit of the 28 state colleges across Florida,” said Frances Neu, Vice President of Institutional Advancement and Executive Director of the Foundation. “The SPC Foundation is deeply grateful for the support and the opportunity to provide scholarships to more students as they seek to realize their educational and career goals.”

Here is a breakdown of the gifts received from the Florida College System Foundation:

$3,778.64 to support the Bank of America Dream Makers Scholarship

  • The Dream Makers Scholarship was established through a $1-million gift from Bank of America and equally matched by the state of Florida through the Dr. Philip Benjamin Matching Grant. The earnings from the endowment are awarded annually and equally distributed to Florida’s 28 colleges. This scholarship is awarded to first-generation students to cover tuition, books, feed and childcare.

$27,311 to support the Helios Education Foundation First Generation Scholarship

  • This gift is from a grant from the Helios Education Foundation. These scholarships help fund tuition, books and fees for first-generation in college students. Preference is given to students who are preparing for a career in education with the intent to become a teacher in Florida.

 $12,661.75 to support the Florida Blue Scholarship

  • This scholarship supports students studying nursing and allied health programs in order to meet the growing need for skilled nurses and allied health professionals who serve the diverse population of Florida.

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The Board of Trustees met Tuesday and approved the $145-million budget for 2012-13. The budget includes a 4.5 percent tuition increase for lower division classes and a 5 percent increase for upper division classes.  The increase in upper division tuition was set legislatively. The board decreased the lower division increase from 5 percent to 4.5 percent Tuesday.

The new rates, which go into effect July 1, are:

Lower division courses: Florida residents: $105.75; Out-of-state residents: $380.90

Upper division courses: Florida residents: $116.70; Out-of-state residents: $419.79

President Bill Law said the focus of this year’s budget enhancements is on student success and implementing the College Experience initiatives. Full details of the budget are available on the Board of Trustees website.

Other meeting highlights, the board:

  • Approved the Compensation and Classification Study for Career Service employees. Consultant Fox Lawson & Associates has spent almost a year reviewing job descriptions, duties and salaries.  The new classification and salary schedule provides fewer, more consistent job titles, updates job descriptions and establishes clearer paths of possible job progression.
  • Adopted the five-year master plan for construction projects.
  • Reviewed floor plans for the new Midtown center and asked for revisions to be brought back next month to include more classroom space.

The entire board agenda, including the presentations, and the video of the board meeting also are available on the Board of Trustees website. The next meeting is July 17 at the EpiCenter.

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     SPC’s Board of Trustees has approved tuition hikes of 8 percent. Unless vetoed by the governor, in-state tuition for lower division courses will go to $94.08 per credit hour, up from $87.12. In-state tuition for upper division courses will be $101.72 per credit hour, up from $94.95.

     Out-of-state residents will now pay $341.65 per credit hour for lower division courses, and $391.93 per credit hours for upper division courses. The new tuition rates take effect beginning fall 2010.

     Tuition at SPC is still a better deal than at state universities, where the average in-state cost per credit hour is $145. Most of the institutions have indicated they will increase their tuition by as much as 15 percent for the coming year, leaving SPC as a solid choice for students pursuing undergraduate degrees.

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