Local colleges are preparing to help students from hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico get back to school.
St. Petersburg College and Hillsborough Community College have agreed to offer in-state tuition for students from the U.S. territory, responding to a request from Gov. Rick Scott. In-state students at both institutions pay about a third of what out-of-state students pay in tuition.
Scott, who travels today to San Juan, Puerto Rico, told universities and colleges in a statement that he wants to be sure the state "does everything possible to assist Puerto Ricans wherever possible."
"Right now, families are beginning the challenging process of repairing and rebuilding their lives," he said in a letter sent to university officials. "Access to in-state tuition will ease the burden for students and families during this difficult time and allow them to focus on their education during a time of recovery."
At Hillsborough Community College, talks of offering in-state tuition to students from Puerto Rico were already happening by the time Scott made the request, said college spokeswoman Ashley Carl. The request allowed the college to move quickly.
"It's a tragic circumstance," said Carl, who added that the college also has housing accommodations that would be available for students.
The college has continuous enrollment, so fall courses are still available, she said.
St. Petersburg College spokesperson Rita Farlow said it was "immediately and unanimously decided" Wednesday morning to go along with Scott's request.
"When we were able to reopen after Hurricane Irma, there was a palpable sense of relief among our students because they were able to get back to some sense of normalcy, and we really want to provide that to our neighbors," Farlow said.
Students can begin enrolling in October for spring enrollment, she said.
St. Petersburg College President Tonjua Williams also made the decision to offer in-state tuition to students in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and those who were impacted by Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Farlow said.
"We just want to give students the opportunity to continue their education," she said. "We think that it's a bit of getting back to normal, and that is cathartic."
Contact Melissa Gomez at email@example.com. Follow @melissagomez004.