(WBIR) "Tuition Equality Now! All Tennessean students deserve in-state tuition."
That's the message for the latest coat of paint on "The Rock" on the University of Tennessee's Knoxville campus.
A group of UT students and leaders of the Tuition Equality Now campaign came out at 6 a.m. Tuesday to paint the iconic rock, pushing lawmakers to approve legislation that would allow undocumented students to enroll in Tennessee's public universities and be charged in-state tuition. Under the proposal, if someone is not a legal U.S. citizen but has graduated from high school, has an ACT score of 21 or higher and a 3.0 GPA, they would be eligible for in-state tuition.
Currently, Tennessee's law is silent on whether students who arrived in the U.S. as children and lack documentation can attend the state's public colleges, reports The Tennessean. The state, as of right now, leaves the decision whether to accept undocumented students up to the university systems.
Schools affiliated with the University of Tennessee system told The Tennessean they "do not knowingly accept" undocumented students. This includes campuses in Knoxville, Chattanooga, Tullahoma, Martin, and Memphis.
UT said it doesn't have "policies" prohibiting the admission of undocumented immigrants. But as part of it's admission process, UT asks applicants questions related to citizenship as well as the applicant's primary language, federal income tax information and place of birth.
"If the information/documentation is not provided, the applicant is not admitted to the university. Further, if the information provided reveals the applicant is undocumented, the applicant is not admitted," UT spokeswoman Gina Stafford told The Tennessean in an email.
The Tennessee Board of Regents - which includes Middle Tennessee State University, Austin Peay State University, the University of Memphis, and the state's community colleges - places undocumented students in the same pool as out-of-state applicants.
Even though TBR accepts undocumented students, many of them - including Alejandro Guizar - can't afford out-of-state tuition, which is significantly higher than in-state costs. Guizar said he was accepted into Pellissippi State Community College, but couldn't afford the out-of-state tuition.
"I would like to become a lawyer. I feel like with my background, I feel like I would be a good resource for my community. If feel like I could make a lot of change," said Guizar, who helped organize Tuesday's rock painting.
The Senate Finance Committee approved Senate Bill 2115 on a 10-1 vote Tuesday morning, setting it up for a final vote in the Senate as soon as Thursday. Companion legislation will be taken up by the House Finance Committee later this afternoon.
A separate bill would extend in-state tuition to students who are undocumented themselves. That measure also may be discussed this afternoon.