MIAMI - One university in Florida is giving homeless students an opportunity to get their degree at no cost.
Florida International University in Miami offers a program called Fostering Panther Pride, which provides free tuition, housing and meals to qualifying homeless students, WSVN reports.
“They are sleeping in the library, they are sleeping in parking lots," FIU's Sonja Montas-Hunter told the station. "You ask them where they’re living, ‘Oh, I’m living with a friend.'”
The program began in 2013, and allows students to stay in a dorm room year-round. In addition to the free meals they receive, they also have access to a pantry for snacks and personal hygiene items.
“That’s one less stress that they have to think about. They don’t have to go into the shelters," Montas-Hunter told WSVN.
Student Nate Webster was homeless for two years after his father went to prison.
“A lot of nights, I stayed crying at night just not knowing what could come the next day," he recalled.
Another student, Enrique Sepulveda, had nowhere to go once his parents kicked him out of the house when he was 18. He hid out in an abandoned home for over a year before moving to a homeless shelter.
“It’s a lot of weight taken off my shoulders,” Sepulveda said.
The program also helps students coming out of foster care.
"We help them through that transition when they age out, or when they’re transitioning to college,” explained Montas-Hunter. “We act as a surrogate parent."
Fostering Panther Pride has more than doubled since its inception six years ago. This year, 185 students are enrolled in the program; while approximately 50 were homeless, the rest came from foster care.
Once the students complete their degrees, the program helps them go to graduate school or enter the workforce, WSVN reports.
LINK: For more information, visit FIU's website.