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Erskine Bowles Dec. 6 Statement on Guidelines for UNC Undocumented Students

Posted December 7, 2007

Statement of UNC President Erskine Bowles on the University of North Carolina’s guidelines on undocumented students:

Since 2004, the University of North Carolina has had a set of guidelines on the admission of undocumented students that we believe conforms to current state and federal law. In short:

  1. Undocumented students must have graduated from high school in the United States.
  2. They may not receive state or federal financial aid in the form of grants or loans.
  3. They must pay out-of-state tuition.
  4. Even if they live in North Carolina or graduated from a North Carolina high school, they must be considered out of state when calculating the 18% cap on out-of-state freshmen.
  5. When admitting students into specific programs, campuses must take into account that federal law prohibits states from granting professional licenses to undocumented aliens.

I personally believe that these guidelines are directionally right for the following basic reasons:

  1. These undocumented graduates of our North Carolina public schools were brought here as minors by their parents. I do not believe that you should punish the child for the sins of the parent. That core value was instilled in me by my own parents and upbringing.
  2. Like it or not, these undocumented people are here. Demographers estimate that there are at least 270,000 undocumented people in North Carolina. I do not believe we can adopt the ostrich theory and just stick our heads in the sand and pretend they are _not_ here. We have to deal with reality – and the reality is that by 2017, there will be 30,000 additional high school graduates in North Carolina, and 22,000 of them will be Hispanic.
  3. Today, North Carolina must compete globally for the jobs of the future. We live in a knowledge-based global economy that requires a highly skilled, highly trained workforce. Hispanics are the fastest-growing segment of the North Carolina population. They will be a large part of our future workforce. If they are not educated, we run the risk of creating another permanent underclass. Without education, they will become a drain on society. With education, they have a chance to be productive members of our communities.

There are two additional points I want to make:

  1. It makes me furious that our federal government is doing such a miserable job in protecting our borders. It’s really terrible that they seem to have just dumped this problem on the states. The federal government then compounds the problem of illegal immigration by taking what I believe is a completely illogical approach to educating undocumented children. Given that federal law mandates that no state can deny a free K-12 education to undocumented children, it makes no sense that federal law takes a complete dive on whether we should offer these same children access to public higher education. North Carolina cannot afford to take that kind of dive. We have to have a highly educated workforce to compete in a knowledge-based global economy.
  2. Finally, the UNC Tomorrow Commission has recommended that the University work to increase educational attainment among all underrepresented groups, including Hispanics. As one of many strategies, it recommends that the University examine “whether and under what circumstances, if any, undocumented students who graduate from North Carolina high schools and who are academically qualified for admission to a UNC institution should be charged in-state tuition.” The Commission goes on to say that “in doing so, the University should examine the associated legal issues. It should also research and assess the economic and social impact on the state and the potential cost to North Carolina taxpayers of providing an affordable college education to undocumented students, versus the ongoing costs to the economy and well-being of North Carolina that result from the lack of higher educational attainment among undocumented students.”

We will do this research. Until that research is finished, we will not make any recommendation for or against this proposal.