Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan on Tuesday signed a stronger and more expansive college tuition waiver law for some of the state’s most disadvantaged youth — those who are homeless and kids in the foster care system.
The state first passed a waiver in 2014 in recognition that homeless kids with dreams of going to college face extraordinary obstacles as they try to break free from generational poverty. Maryland was one of the first states to implement such a program.
Over time, however, experience showed that many college-ready youths either didn’t apply to college because they felt they needed to work to avoid homelessness, while others who started college lost their tuition exemption after obtaining stable housing.
The measure Hogan (D) signed Tuesday, House Bill 216, passed both houses nearly unanimously. According to Democratic authors Del. Geraldine Valentino-Smith and Sen. Mary Washington (sponsor of the Senate version), HB216 beefs up state colleges’ administrative process for confirming who’s entitled to the break and broadens eligibility beyond just unaccompanied homeless youth.
They said that when the law goes into effect in July, Maryland will be in line with other states with similar programs for their public colleges.
This bill better serves the intended targets of the previous law. Specifically, it removes a requirement that youth be “unaccompanied” and “independent” as defined in federal law.
Valentino-Smith said she wanted to clarify the definition of homelessness so that youth wouldn’t find themselves dropping out of college because they lost their tuition-free eligibility as soon as they got a place to live.
Homeless advocates, including Ingrid Lofgren, director of the Homeless Youth Initiative at Homeless Persons Representation Project strongly supported the bill, according to the Capital Gazette.
“Particularly for youth experiencing homelessness, no amount of hard work can alter the reality that college is just too expensive and student debt too crushing for them to maintain stable housing, eat regular meals, and keep up with tuition and other school expenses,” Lofgren said.