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South Carolina students granted in-state tuition, financial aid after challenging discriminatory policy

SPLC lawsuit continues on behalf of other students.

Three South Carolina students denied benefits such as in-state college tuition and financial aid because they couldn’t prove their parents’ lawful immigration status have been granted those benefits and are attending college after a class action lawsuit was filed by the SPLC on behalf of the U.S. citizen students.

In addition, the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education today approved the issuance of “nonbinding guidance” to colleges and universities, noting that U.S. citizen students residing in South Carolina should not be denied in-state residency status on the basis of their parent’s undocumented status.

Despite these actions, the lawsuit will proceed to ensure a permanent solution that will protect such students across the state.

“Far too many talented and deserving South Carolina students have had their dreams of a college education shattered because of this policy that denies them in-state tuition and financial aid,” said Michelle Lapointe, senior staff attorney with the SPLC’s Immigrant Justice Project. “A strong, enforceable policy is needed to protect students like our clients over the long term.”

Two named plaintiffs in the lawsuit who are now receiving in-state tuition – Antonio Rojas Rodriguez and Alan Velasquez – are currently enrolled at South Carolina colleges (the College of Charleston and Trident Technical College respectively). They were initially denied in-state tuition and scholarships at these colleges.

The third plaintiff, Cristal Carreno, a junior at Converse College, is now receiving state academic merit scholarships and need-based grants that she was denied during her first two years of college at the private college. Converse is a private college that charges the same tuition rate to in-state and out-of-state students, but only those deemed in-state residents are eligible for state merit scholarships and need-based grants.

For Rojas Rodriguez, the chance to attend college opens a world of possibilities.

“I’m glad that the state recognized that I’m just like any other young South Carolinian,” he said. “I deserve the same education at the same cost as my peers. College is an opportunity to better myself and pursue my dream of opening my own business and giving back to my community. No one should have to jump through the hoops I did to access a college education.”

South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center is serving as the SPLC’s co-counsel on the case.