For Janeth Macias, applying to colleges was a foreign concept.
Finding a college that would suit her aspirations was a daunting process, let alone filling out and applying for the Free Application For Federal Student Aid — a process that is foreign to many students.
Macias, who is now a graduate of both Hermiston High School and Eastern Oregon University, said because she came from a Hispanic family with no experience in the university system, she didn’t even know where to begin.
But when the process became difficult, there were several things that significantly helped her to get into and then graduate from college.
“First of all, the key to my success was finding a mentor,” she said. “My mom was a single parent and didn’t know anything about the process whatsoever.”
Macias said she found Roger Berger, a business teacher at the high school, who was able to guide her in the many steps that are now required to apply to and graduate from college, including applications, scholarships and FAFSA forms.
During her sophomore year of high school in 2006, Macias and classmate Yasmin Ibarra, founded the Generation College club with senior counselor and advisor Melody Bustillos.
As a club they could depend on one another for support, search for schools that fit their needs and organize fundraisers for college campus visits, she said.
Macias said the club was also vital in her surviving her college experience.
“Once I got into college, it was nice still maintaining that support,” she said. “I had someone to talk me through it. If I wanted to come home, they were able to find ways where I could visit my mom.”
Macias said after graduating from Eastern Oregon University in 2011, she knew she still wanted to help first-generation college students in their paths down the college education system. A position opened for an admissions counselor at EOU. She applied for it and got the job.
“I love promoting higher education to Latino students,” she said. “It is really rewarding seeing them come up through the education process.”
Macias said a large part of what makes college so scary to potential applicants is the financial burden that it puts on students.
According to a recent audit performed by the Secretary of State on the Oregon University System, resident undergraduate tuition and fees have increased 61 percent over the last decade when adjusted for inflation.
That number is even higher for non-state residents and international students whom pay an average of $20,000 more in tuition every year in the state of Oregon.
Prior to April 2013, Oregon students living in a country illegally had to pay nonresident tuition regardless if they were raised in Oregon or have lived in the state for more than one year — a requirement that qualifies an Oregon resident for in-state tuition.
On April 2, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber signed into law House Bill 2787, which allows students to qualify for in-state tuition if they have attended an Oregon high school for at least three years and have lived in the U.S. for at least five. Those interested also have to sign an affidavit swearing that they will apply to legalize their immigration status as soon as they are eligible.
At least 14 other states have similar legislation that allow undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition.
Hermiston Deputy Superintendent Wade Smith said they have no way of knowing how many undocumented students are living in the district. He said the district requests that a birth certificate be submitted at registration, but does not require it. Many residents living in the country legally do not provide documentation, either.
As of Monday, 577 of the 1,417 students enrolled at Hermiston High School are Hispanic.
Based on data collected from graduates from 2008-2012, the Hermiston School District saw a dramatic increase in Hispanic students acceptance to a two or four-year college, seeing an increase of 16 percent.
Nearly 50 percent of all Hispanic graduates at the high school were enrolled in college by fall term, all but closing the Hispanic to Caucasian college-attending achievement gap, according to the Hermiston High School report.