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Education

Kansas State Recruits Students Who Are In The Country Illegally

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Let's go now to Kansas State University, where officials are actively raising private money so students in the country illegally can attend. Here's Sam Zeff, of member station KCUR, with the story.

SAM ZEFF, BYLINE: Meet junior Maria De La Torre, from Kansas City, Mo.

MARIA DE LA TORRE: I am originally from Guadalajara, Mexico. I am dual-majoring in computer science and mathematics.

ZEFF: Maria moved to Missouri when she was 12. She would go on to be valedictorian of her high school class and graduate with both a high school diploma and an associate's degree. Oh, and she worked full-time.

DE LA TORRE: So I think I did pretty well.

ZEFF: She says her first choice for college was the University of Missouri. But last year, lawmakers there prevented students like Maria from getting in-state tuition or state-funded scholarships. She says she was devastated but then found Kansas State University, where Kirk Schulz is president.

KIRK SCHULZ: What better story is there out there than taking somebody who comes to America, regardless of how they get here, and wants to better themselves with a college education?

ZEFF: But Republican state Representative Brett Hildabrand, a Kansas State grad, says that scholarship money could be going to Kansans. Or, he says, legal immigrants.

BRETT HILDABRAND: I just see this as a rewarding behavior that we should not be encouraging.

ZEFF: Schulz, who will soon take the top job at Washington State University, says he expects some day one of these students will come back and write the university a big check. Turns out, Schulz may be onto something if Maria De La Torre is any indication.

DE LA TORRE: I believe that in the future, if I make it, I would have to come back and help in any way I can.

ZEFF: Kansas State officials say they understand this program is controversial, and they're worried about how the legislature might react. For NPR News, I'm Sam Zeff in Kansas City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.