Ga. colleges question how to verify status
By Laura Diamond
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Georgia's 35 colleges have a big assignment — verify the citizenship status of nearly 316,000 students by mid-August.
But this is not a problem with one right answer. Based on information some colleges provided The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Tuesday, a patchwork of approaches emerged as colleges scramble to guarantee that no illegal immigrants are enrolled and paying in-state tuition.
* Kennesaw State University officials said they will “conduct residency verification on all students.” Any student who doesn't provide documentation to qualify for in-state status will pay the higher [out-of-state] rate. The university is researching whether to use an outside verification system, such as the federal SAVE database, spokeswoman Arlethia Perry-Johnson said. Officials did not provide information on their current process to determine tuition.
* At the University of Georgia, spokesman Tom Jackson said, “We're not sure if we need to do more than what we're currently doing.” There, admissions officers already ask questions or request more information if an application raises concerns, such as if a student claims to be a Georgia resident but fails to include a Social Security number. Inconsistencies are investigated. “We don't believe we have any undocumented students,” he said. “At this point we're confident we're getting the job done.” He said the review will be done by this fall.
* Georgia State University is reviewing its procedures. The university does requires any non-U.S. citizens to provide documentation of their legal status before they can enroll, spokeswoman Andrea Jones said. Students who are not confirmed to be legal Georgia residents or U.S. citizens are denied in-state tuition and other benefits, she said.
* Southern Polytechnic State University gives in-state tuition to students who say they are Georgia residents and include a Social Security number on the application, said Ron Koger , vice president of student and enrollment services. The number is verified if students complete the federal application for financial aid, he said.
Chancellor Erroll Davis and the State Board of Regents ordered colleges to review the tuition charges placed on all students in response to a public outcry after it was disclosed that Kennesaw State University charged an undocumented student in-state tuition.
The expectation — from the State Board of Regents, anti-immigration advocates and others — is that colleges will follow state law, which allows illegal immigrants to attend public colleges, but requires them to pay out-of-state tuition, which is about three times as expensive.
The regents appointed a new committee — which includes four college presidents — to examine the most efficient and cost-effective ways to check citizenship to prevent or catch undocumented students from getting in-state tuition. The committee has an October deadline and has yet to schedule its first meeting.
Meantime, colleges “need to go through their records and review the information to make sure the tuition charged students matches up with what's on the application,” regents spokesman John Millsaps said. “If there are questions or concerns they need to get that resolved.”
Millsaps said there is no rule as to what will happen to any student flagged for paying the wrong rate. Tuition charges will be changed to the correct rate, but Millsaps said cases could be reviewed to determine if the student owes any money.
He was unsure how much colleges would spend to conduct the reviews or how many students would be flagged.
Georgia's colleges could run students' information through SAVE, a federal database, said Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies for the Center for Immigration Studies, which supports vigorous enforcement of immigrations laws. If colleges conduct the checks electronically, each name would cost 50 cents each, she said. Colleges could recoup the cost through the higher out-of-state tuition payments.
“They should have been doing this all along so it's not fair for them to protest,” Vaughan said. “Colleges are more concerned about providing access for everyone who wants to attend. But what about the taxpayers' concerns that their money is being properly spent?”
Georgia's admissions policy has been in place since 2006 when state lawmakers passed a bill that directed the regents to make sure universities don't grant illegal immigrants benefits prohibited under existing federal law. Davis and the regent's attorney concluded then that in-state tuition is such a benefit and ordered colleges to halt providing this discount.
At the same time, Davis ordered college presidents to stop granting tuition waivers to these students. After expressing concern that some colleges presidents were ignoring Davis' 2006 orders, the regents voted this month to change the waiver rule to bar college presidents from giving this discount to illegal immigrants.
The issue has become a hot topic among the candidates to be Georgia's next governor. Also, Cobb County Sheriff Neil Warren has asked the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to investigate the regents for possibly violating the law by admitting illegal immigrants. The GBI turned the request over to the state's attorney general.
South Carolina remains the only state to bar illegal immigrants from attending its public colleges. Since 2009, students must prove they're legal citizens or have a lawful presence in this country before they can be admitted.
Eleven states grant illegal immigrants in-state tuition. The rest follow the procedure used in Georgia.
At the University of South Carolina-Columbia, many students were cleared by completing FAFSA, the federal financial aid forms, registrar Barbara Rogers Blaney said. Other acceptable documents include certified birth certificate, passport or South Carolina driver's license. Visas and other documents from international students also are verified for authenticity, she said.
“When it first passed we had to quickly gather credentials from all our enrolled students and that was terrible,” Blaney said. “It's easier now because students know they have to go through this process.”
College committee on citizenship schedules first meeting