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Centro Hispano group raising awareness of tuition inequity, warning it could cause students to leave TN

A group of women started a movement, "Semillas of Equity," to bring attention to the lack of access to in-state tuition for undocumented students.

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — After taking their group all the way to Nashville for the "Day on the Hill," seven women in a group called the "Semillas of Equity" are continuing to fight for their cause. 

Tuition inequity is when undocumented students can't receive in-state tuition, or are ineligible for the FAFSA or other scholarships due to their citizenship status.

"It's very unfair for a student who has been in the education system from K-12. Even though they graduated from high school, some of them aren't eligible for in-state tuition due to their status eligibilities," said Luci Diego, Centro Hispano's College Access Specialist.

According to data from the Pew Research Center, in 2018 there was about 130,000 undocumented immigrants in Tennessee. Data from the Migration Policy Institute says 19,000 are between 16 years old and 24 years old.

Jennifer Serrano said she wanted to get involved with the cause when she witnessed tuition inequity affecting one of her own classmates. 

"I had this peer and within my school, who was top of the class, Honors student," Serrano said. "She was scared of pursuing that post-secondary education because she knew that she wouldn't have access to financial aid or the FASFA."

Members of Semillas of Equity said they hope to draw attention to the fact that this issue is preventing the state from retaining qualified students. 

"A lot of people who want to seek education and can be an asset to our state end up moving to a state up north," Diego said. "They can attend some of the colleges that are undocumented-friendly, and it could be accessible for them."

Semillas took their activism to social media. They wrote an op-ed piece and took to the state capital to discuss with lawmakers. 

"I got to see a lot of the negative side of it, which pushed me to keep fighting for change," Serrano said. "We did face some scenarios where the result was kind of discouraging, in the 'House of the People,' which isn't something that shouldn't be happening."

Serrano says she is going to continue advocating for tuition equity throughout her college career. She's a freshman, studying political science at Emory in Atlanta.

"Over fall break, there is this opportunity to go research educational disparities within minority groups in Chattanooga, Tennessee," she said. 

You can learn more about the group here

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