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.
“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.
“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.”
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: