The University of Central Florida’s Board of Trustees voted unanimously Thursday to again extend the in-state tuition rate for students from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, providing another boost to students and families impacted by Hurricane Maria.

“These brave students are inspiring, and I am as committed to their academic success as they are,” said President Dale Whittaker. “Thank you to our Board of Trustees for its enthusiastic vote to waive out-of-state tuition for Puerto Rican students. We are 100 percent committed to supporting our Puerto Rican community.”

The Board of Trustees previously approved the waiver of out-of-state fees through Spring 2019, noting the financial hardships the storm had created for families and the desire of students to stay at UCF and plan for their future. Today’s vote ensures students from the two U.S. territories receive in-state tuition rates and waived out-of-state fees for an additional four years, as well as expands eligibility to include students already in the educational pipeline at any of Florida’s 28 public state (community) colleges.

“I’m very proud of the students from Puerto Rico who are here today and around our campus,” said Board of Trustees Chairman Marcos Marchena. “They are wonderful members of our community, and I’m thrilled we are able to provide them with this small measure of reassurance.”

“They are wonderful members of our community, and I’m thrilled we are able to provide them with this small measure of reassurance.”  — Board of Trustees Chairman Marcos Marchena

Residents of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands will qualify for in-state rates if they are currently enrolled at UCF, are currently enrolled in a Florida state college, or are new students admitted in Spring 2019 to UCF or any Florida state college. Students meeting these criteria will continue to receive in-state tuition rates through Summer 2023, as long as they remain continuously enrolled. This creates big savings for these students, as tuition and fees for Florida residents is $6,368 per year, compared to $22,478 per year for non-Florida residents.

UCF has one of the biggest cohorts at a U.S. university of students displaced by Hurricane Maria with 200 new Puerto Rican students transferring to UCF in January, and close to 250 students enrolled this fall.

 “First, I’m here to say thank you to UCF, thank you for everything you have done for these students and for Puerto Rico,” said Jennifer Tirado, the president of UCF’s Puerto Rican Student Association and one of three students who spoke at today’s Board of Trustees meeting. “This decision is also about our UCF values – serving, being leaders, and being an example for other universities,” said Tirado, a senior studying industrial engineering.

“Thanks to UCF, I got a chance to continue. My dad telling me how proud of me he is gives me hope. I feel blessed at this opportunity.” — Yolimar Garayalde Figueroa

Yolimar Garayalde Figueroa recounted her fear as she huddled in a room with her parents and grandparents while the hurricane ripped apart their home. “I don’t know how we managed the circumstances,” she said. Figueroa, a junior majoring in criminal justice, said she knew her family would not have the means to support her after the storm. “Thanks to UCF, I got a chance to continue. My dad telling me how proud of me he is gives me hope. I feel blessed at this opportunity.”

Junior marketing major Karla Santiago, whose family lost their business in Hurricane Maria, told the board that she has joined multiple student organizations, completed an internship, acquired a job, and maintained a 3.7 GPA during her first semester at UCF. ”I anxiously left everything I had ever known and entered this university, this community of individuals, that welcomed me with open arms and gave me all of the resources I could ever need to excel in my education,” she said.

A university-wide effort has been underway during the last nine months to aid Puerto Rican students in their transition. UCF has established an informational website, assisted with housing and scholarship opportunities, hosted welcome dinners, offered intensive English classes, and identified peer mentors and Spanish-speaking faculty and staff mentors.

Extension of the in-state rate comes as UCF celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month. UCF has almost 18,000 Hispanic students, a makeup that represents 26 percent of total enrollment and is a record high for the university. UCF ranks 6th in the nation for bachelor’s degrees awarded to Hispanic students.

UCF expects to soon be eligible for recognition as a Hispanic Serving Institution by the U.S. Department of Education, a distinction that reflects an institution’s commitment to diversity and comes with increased eligibility for federal funding.