With the first full academic year of in-state tuition for Puerto Rican students displaced by Hurricane Maria, UCF has seen an increase in the amount of Puerto Rican students and an increase in programs and opportunities available to them.
In the fall 2018 semester, the UCF Board of Trustees approved a five-year extension of the tuition waiver for Puerto Rican students displaced by the hurricane. The waiver runs through the summer of 2023.
Since the waiver’s conception in the Fall 2017 semester, UCF’s Puerto Rican student body increased from 111 to 300 students in the Fall 2018 semester, according to Institutional Knowledge Management. 309 Puerto Rican undergraduate students are enrolled this semester.
When former Puerto Rican Student Association President Jose Rivera attended UCF in 2017, the population of Puerto Rican students was small and the PRSA was in its early stages. Today, Rivera is a graduate business student, founder and director of the National Puerto Rican Student Coalition. He spoke about how student growth and initiative has led to new opportunities for Puerto Rican students.
“The Puerto Rican community at UCF [has] a sense of purpose and clear path of what [is] wanted to be achieved,” Rivera said. “That’s how we got the in-state, UCF PR Hub and advance the message being a Hispanic-serving institution.”
Junior biomedical sciences major Emily Rosa-Bouza is a waiver recipient. She said she struggled with transfer shock, class size and homesickness, but was able to find her way, eventually joining several clubs and organizations, including the PRSA.
“I was constantly looking up if there was any help for students, because if not, I would not be able to afford to come here,” Rosa-Bouza said.
Rosa-Bouze is now president of Cupcakes for a Cure, where she was able to reunite with her hometown friend and current roommate, junior finance major Renia Rodriguez, who in 2018 also became a tuition waiver recipient.
Rodriguez said joining organizations such as the Association of Latino Professionals for America has helped her adjust and succeed at UCF.
“I can relate to students from Puerto Rico in PRSA and I can relate to business majors in ALPFA," Rodriguez said. "Those meetings have helped me realize that you have to reach out and make connections. It motivated me more to get internships and interviews.”
The outreach from UCF to Puerto Rican students goes beyond free tuition, helping the students network within the university.
Fernando Rivera, director of the Puerto Rico Research Hub at UCF and head of the PRSA, has collaborated with the Research Hub to continue the effort to help Puerto Rican students find success at UCF.
“I have been proud to provide that opportunity for students to learn from their experience and to do research in an area they are familiar with,” Rivera said.
With the ongoing efforts in research and looking toward the future, there have been even more ideas to help continue assisting students with aid as well as opportunities to utilize the growth to contribute toward the Central Florida market and the university.
“I am delighted to see those increases and I hope we can continue to witness that and see a growth in diversity in the faculty at the university,” said Gordon Chavis, associate vice president of Student Development and Enrollment Services. “That has been an area where we haven’t been as strong and something that we need to work on as a university.”