Student fights UNC over in-state tuition


Fernando Bermudez lives here, and graduated high school here. However, the UNC System says he's still not a local. Bermudez says he's always considered North Carolina home.

"I just feel more comfortable here," he said. "Everyone has their own comfort zone, and this is my comfort zone."

He's comfortable here, because it's where he went to elementary school, most of middle school, and all four years of high school at Fayetteville's Howard Health and Life Sciences, where he had perfect attendance one year.

"I graduated from high school with honors," said Bermudez.

The 19 year old has had a North Carolina driver's license since 2011. He's registered to vote here. He's filed taxes here. He has big dreams after he graduates from UNC-Charlotte where he wants to be a biomedical engineer

However, that dream has recently become a red-tape nightmare.

"Two weeks before I go to the school, they say I'm still out of state and if you want to challenge that you can do an admissions application," said Bermudez.

The problem is that even though Bermudez has lived here most of his life his mom doesn't anymore.  She moved to Florida when he was in the eighth grade, and he moved with her. However, he soon got homesick and moved back. He finished school while living with his older brother who is a Fort Bragg soldier.  

"I've been here in Fayetteville since 2008, June 14," he said.

Admissions officials at UNC-Charlotte say Bermudez is an out of state student, which means an extra $7,000 a semester in tuition.

"It frustrates me with my family, because it's a question of money that my family can't provide," Bermudez said. "They just can't keep spending thousands and thousands of dollars."

Bermudez appealed and got denied. He reached out to me, and I got in touch with UNC-Charlotte.

Bermudez got an email from the director of the residency determination office, which explains under North Carolina law, to qualify for in state tuition you must prove you established your place of residence in North Carolina twelve months before beginning the term.  

Bermudez says he's done that considering he's been in this state since 2008, but he was a minor then, and his guardian is his mom who has lived in Florida all this time.  

Bermudez doesn't think that should matter, as he turned 18, and became an adult, more than a year and a half ago. He has one last appeal, and he's hoping it all works out.

"A bird will make a home wherever it wants to," he said. "It will pick a spot, make a nest and it will probably want to be there for the rest of its life. So I'm just like that. I'm just like a bird finding a home, and when I came here to North Carolina, I found a home and wanted to be here.

The State residence Committee is looking at Fernando's case next week. They will have the final say.

The director did give Bermudez some hope at least for the fall semester coming up. There is a five year rule exception, which states if the student has lived here for five consecutive years prior to enrolling then where the student has resided those five years is considered over where that student's parents live.  

According to the director, Bermudez may be eligible for in-state tuition moving forward, which would be a savings of $7,000 a semester.

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