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CUNY, the Nation's Largest Urban University, to Repay Thousands to Undocumented Students

First Posted: Mar 04, 2015 05:00 AM EST
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CUNY will be repaying thousands to 150 undocumented students who recently overpaid their tuition, the confusion largely due to the students' legal status.

The City University of New York, better known by its abbreviated label CUNY, is the largest urban university in the United States. With more than 270,000 degree-seeking students and 273,000 continuing and professional education students, the varied student body holds enrollment at one of many campuses, belonging to the 24 institutions located throughout New York City's five boroughs.

Easily, CUNY is one of the most diverse student bodies in the U.S. They host a collection of students who are black, white, Asian and Hispanic of various ages, origins and interests. The university welcomes undocumented students. Incidentally, immigrant students at CUNY paid out-of-state tuition costs, even though they're legally eligible for in-state rates. This is a difference of about $4,000 per semester.

The student group CUNY Dreamers brought this to the attention of school officials last year. The university's administration then conducted a thorough review of enrollment of its 24 campuses, and began the process returns to the 150 students who'd overpaid by thousands.

"We canvassed the 24 CUNY campuses and collaborated with several organizations and nonprofits that work with the immigrant community to share information about in-state-tuition and out-of-state tuition rates, specifically looking to find those who had being charged out-of-state tuition. We structured a plan of action to appeal to undocumented students fears and to the process of ensuring that CUNY administration returned their money back," the CUNY DREAMers' Facebook page said.

"Students aware of the matter were afraid of coming forward to provide the right documentation to apply for in-state-tuition due to the fear of deportation and of proving documentation [to receive in-state-tuition, you must fill out a form where you attest to be undocumented] that will register them as undocumented."

New York is one of 19 states that grant in-state tuition to its undocumented student population. In 2002, legislation was passed that made in-state rates available to undocumented students who attended high school in New York or a GED, and sought two or more years of college. However, this law isn't always put into practice, and that's because undocumented students are unaware of their eligibility for that rate or likewise services -- and universities are failing to uphold the law. Also, many others are fearful, unwilling to fuss because they believe it could result in their deportation, even though their information should be held in confidence under federal law.

"After several meetings with students, faculty, and CUNY Administration, we have given thousands of dollars back to students across CUNY and others will receive their money back within a couple of weeks," the Facebook page said.

"Not only did we ensure that undocumented students were being treated fairly, but we also saved students from dropping out of college. We organized and maintained a cohesive, integral and committed team that is now counting with your help to bring more students forward to receive their money."

Tuition rates vary from institution to institution, but in-state costs tend to be $3,000 per term, while out-of-state cost tends to be a little over $7,000. So, reimbursements equal $3,000 -- $4,500 per semester. For some, this refund was necessary.

Some undocumented students, many of which are part-time workers, are claiming they planned to quit school because it was so expensive. Other students reportedly sold personal items so that they could pay fees, and other students took off a year after each full year of schooling so that they could pay for their tuition.

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