Status change could mean two free years of tuition

MISSOURI - High school students who came to the United States illegally before their 16th birthday can now qualify to receive two free years of higher education at a Missouri community college.

Because of a change made with Homeland Security in the last year, immigrant children who meet certain criteria are not illegal. Instead, they have "legal presence."

After what the state education department said has caused some confusion, the A Plus Scholarship eligibility has been more clearly defined.

"We began to get calls from schools, saying, 'Are these students eligible? Are they not?' And so we then began to investigate that and look at the background," said Leroy Wade, Deputy Commissioner of the state education department.

The federal government can grant "deferred status" to children who arrive in the U.S. illegally if they meet certain criteria.

"With that deferred status, they are legally present in the United States," said Bill Thornton, general counsel for the state education department. "So because of their legal presence, it makes them eligible for the A plus scholarship."

The A Plus scholarship would give students who qualify two tuition-free years of community college in Missouri.

"Before that, these folks didn't have legal presence, so after Homeland Security gave them deferred action, deferred status, then that made this group of folks, it gave them legal presence," Thornton said. "So in light of that, it made them eligible for the scholarship."

According to officials, there is no timeline for a change. They said this is more of just clarifying state statutes.

Right now, it's not known how many students in Missouri this change will affect.

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