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Tuition break launches dreams

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Silvia Salguero did so well in high school that she was offered a $5,000 scholarship. But even with the help, Salguero couldn't afford to attend the University of Utah to study nursing. Even though she had graduated from a Utah public high school, she wasn't entitled to resident tuition because she was in the country illegally.

HB144 changed all of that. The legislation, passed in the 2002 session, enabled students such as Salguero to pay resident tuition rates for their college education. She is among a handful of students who have availed themselves of the tuition break this school year.

Critics said a wave of illegals would flood Utah's college campuses. They decried a "special favor" being extended to "lawbreakers."

Such thinking is very shortsighted.

A deluge of such students is not realistic considering the abysmal percentage of Latino students who complete high school in Western states.

Among the students who graduate, most find college to be out of reach financially. Unless students have college-educated mentors, few will have the appropriate support at home to initiate and complete their degrees.

Beyond money, it is important that students of illegal aliens have the opportunity to attend college. They did not choose their lot in life. They may have been born here or brought here by parents seeking opportunities. If they have attended public school, as they are required to do, it makes no sense to close the door of higher learning to students who can help diversify college campuses and be part of a well-educated and diverse work force.

For the naysayers, this law didn't drastically alter Utah's college campuses. But for the students who are attending college this year who otherwise couldn't, this new law has the potential to substantially improve their lives. That is, after all, the aim of a college education.