For many undocumented students, the path to higher education is expensive and challenging. For Lilia Chavez, MSU Denver junior, the hardest part of growing up undocumented was finding her identity.
“I was hidden, with my own fear of telling people, even though it wasn’t my fault,” Chavez, 20, said. “I wasn’t at liberty to [travel] with the school or with my friends. I couldn’t drive for the longest time, because I was scared. I can’t identify myself in the schools that I feel like I could [have.] I wanted to go to CU Boulder for the longest time. That was my dream and I can’t do that.”
Chavez and her family moved to America when she was seven years old to escape the dangers of Mexico City. In elementary school, there was no bilingual program, her peers could not understand her, and her teachers were tough.
“I remember staying up at night translating every single word in a sentence. I learned English within a year and because I was so good at math that kept me going,” said Chavez. I feel like it’s been somewhat of a challenge just because I have to find out who I am with this. I was being raised with Caucasian little kids and I was learning their heritage but I didn’t learn mine. My parents were trying to change that somehow so I knew where I came from.”
In high school, Chavez came into her dual culture. As a straight-A student, she decided to apply to all of her top colleges.
She was accepted to each one, but ended up going to Community College of Denver.
“When I started I was only taking one class,” said Chavez “[It] was hard for me just knowing that I worked my butt off then having to come to community college. [It’s] not a bad thing, but I felt like I could have gotten a higher education.”
Chavez earned an associate’s degree over three years, and knew her next move would be MSU Denver, where she could easily transfer her credits. She feared she would have to take time off because of the high out-of-state tuition rate, and was elated to hear about MSU Denver’s reduced rate.
“I’m pretty sure I cried. I’m paying just a little more than CCD, but I’m willing to pay that,” Chavez said. “I understand [out-of-state student’s] frustration, but at the same time I’ve lived in Colorado my whole life, Colorado is my home so I’m really glad [the new rate] is somewhere in between.”
Chavez disagrees with Attorney General’s John Suthers’ argument that the new rate is a public benefit because she says undocumented students are accounted for in high school, they earn good grades, and they’ve grown up here.
“We’re still paying a lot of money,” she said. “We still have to work to pay that money. As long as we don’t have a criminal record and stay in school I don’t think it’s a benefit I think it’s something we deserve. It’s not affecting U.S. citizens, if anything it’s a benefit for the school, who will be able to get money from this. Bitterness is not the right way.”
Although Chavez cannot pursue her ultimate goal of nursing school due to her undocumented status, she is determined to get a bachelors degree in nutrition by 2014 and work toward nursing because she says she loves to help people.
“I’m really excited to go to Metro,” Chavez said with a smile. “I’m proud to be a student at a school that’s doing this- no other school is really doing this in Colorado and I’m excited to be in school.”
According to Judi Diaz Bonacquisti, associate vice president for enrollment management, 275 students have filed the necessary paperwork to apply for the new rate, but not all are enrolled in classes.
“About 180 new students [applied for the rate,] but likely, a good chunk of them would have been here anyway,” said Diaz Bonacquisti. “We have always had our undocumented students coming to our institution, so now it’s just a matter of being able to see how many of them are applying for this particular rate.”
Diaz Bonacquisti said that the university is on track in its goal to become a Hispanic Serving Institute, and is up 10 percent from last year in Hispanic enrollment.
People: Lilia Chavez