COLUMBIA, Mo. — The Missouri Department of Higher Education is planning to expand a state scholarship program to some students who entered the United States without legal permission before they were 16 years old, the department's attorney said.
The plan is to open the A+ program, which provides two free years of tuition at Missouri community colleges, to students who have applied with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for "Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals" status, The Columbia Daily Tribune reported.
That status allows eligibility for work but also makes the population eligible for education benefits because the students would be deemed "lawfully present" in this country, education department attorney Bill Thornton said. He said no timeline has been established for the change.
Under Missouri law, people who are not lawfully in the U.S. are excluded from post-secondary benefits. The federal government created the new "lawfully present" category in 2012.
"But because this newly created group is lawfully present, if they can provide proper documentation, they can be part of this program," Thornton said. "That's how we interpreted it."
The Missouri Legislature last session passed a bill prohibiting students with "lawfully present" status from receiving in-state tuition. However, students in the A+ program don't pay tuition, so that law doesn't apply to them.
Lawfully present status requires applicants to have come to this country before age 16; to be 30 or younger as of June 15, 2012; to have continuously lived in the U.S. since June 15, 2007; to be enrolled in school or have graduated or obtained a certificate of completion from high school, a general education development certificate; or be honorably discharged from the Coast Guard or armed forces. The status also requires applicants to have not been convicted of a felony, "significant misdemeanor" or three or more misdemeanors.
Homeland Security has received just over 2,805 applications for the status in Missouri and has approved 2,448, the newspaper reported.
"Our role is to take the statutes and have rules that are based on those statutes," Thornton said. "We are finishing tightening our regulations to make sure they're in line."