Mass. OKs Tuition Break For Hurricane Evacuees From Puerto Rico And The U.S. Virgin Islands

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Students who relocated to Massachusetts from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands because of Hurricane Maria will be immediately eligible to pay lower in-state public higher education tuition rates under a proposal unanimously approved on Tuesday by the state Board of Higher Education.

The rate break will apply at the University of Massachusetts campuses, state universities and community colleges, and will be in effect through the spring semester in 2018.

Meeting at MassBay Community College in Wellesley Tuesday, the board authorized Higher Education Commissioner Carlos Santiago to extend the in-state rates to students who provide documentation of their displacement and meet all the admission and transfer requirements of a public higher education institution, according to the board.

"Our goal is to make sure that no one’s college dreams are derailed by the roar of a hurricane," Santiago, a Puerto Rico native, said in a statement.

Ricardo Rosselló, the governor of Puerto Rico, was meeting at the State House Tuesday with Gov. Charlie Baker and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh. Rosselló said he is "grateful" for the in-state rates being extended to Puerto Ricans who had to leave home. Education is the primary concern of parents, Rosselló said.

The in-state rate savings can be substantial. An evacuee enrolling at Holyoke Community College, where the board says about 50 individuals displaced by the hurricane have already enrolled for the spring semester, would pay $4,272 a year instead of an out-of-state tuition rate of $9,216.

"Hurricanes Maria left a devastating impact on the commonwealth of Puerto Rico, causing major disruptions for students and families who have relocated to Massachusetts," Baker said in a statement. "Our administration is working collaboratively to provide critical resources and opportunities for our fellow Americans from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands during this difficult time, and I am pleased the board approved this important opportunity to provide in-state tuition to make education more affordable for these students."

According to the board, several states have taken similar actions to accommodate students whose schools will be closed for months.

"These storms have impacted the ability of families to maintain normality, while also leaving students with limited or no options to continue pursuit of their higher education goals and aspirations in their home territories," according to the board, which said "many" public higher education institutions in Massachusetts are seeing displaced students show up on their campuses.

The number of students who will take advantage of the tuition break is unclear but modest, according to the board, which said many of the students will receive Pell grants.

Students displaced by Hurricane Katrina were offered in-state tuition waivers in 2005-2006, according to the state, and in 2001 the board approved tuition waivers for spouses and dependents of victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

With additional reporting by SHNS's Andy Metzger

This article was originally published on December 12, 2017.