State News

Consultant gives community colleges options on immigrants

Posted April 16, 2009 4:02 a.m. EDT
Updated April 16, 2009 6:59 p.m. EDT

— North Carolina's community college system is trying to figure out whether to change its policy barring the admission of illegal immigrants.

A state community college board committee that met in Asheboro Thursday received a report from an outside consultant examining the issue. Maryland-based JBL Associates made no recommendations in the 136-page report but outlined options for the system.

The community college system decided in November 2007 that its 58 campuses must admit illegal immigrants. But the system reversed the decision six months later after the state Attorney General's Office said the policy violated Department of Homeland Security rules.

Federal officials said later it was up to each state to decide who can be enrolled.

During the 2007-2008 academic year, 111 of the nearly 200,000 students enrolled in the system were illegal immigrants, according to the consultant's report.

JBL examined how 11 other states handle enrollment of illegal immigrants and found that California, Illinois, New Mexico, New York and Texas allow them enroll and pay in-state tuition. Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia and Virginia charge them out-of-state rates. South Carolina denies admission to illegal immigrants.

The report noted that out-of-state tuition would cover the cost of instructing a student at every campus except Pamlico Community College in Grantsboro. On average, the state could net $1,680 off each illegal immigrant who enrolled full time.

"Out-of-state students actually allow tuition to be cheaper for North Carolinians because they give a surplus of money to the system," said Irene Godinez, advocacy director of El Pueblo, an organization dedicated to strengthening North Carolina's Latino community.

Wake Technical Community College could make $1,795 by enrolling an illegal immigrant, while Durham Technical Community College could make $2,106 and Fayetteville Technical Community College could make $2,748, one of the highest returns statewide, according to the report.

Godinez said she hopes the data in the report will encourage the community college system board to change its policy and admit students who are in the country illegally.

"We were the first state to allow access to higher education in the country, and I hope we continue to live with that tradition," she said.

The University of North Carolina system admits illegal immigrants who graduate from U.S. high schools but counts them as out-of-state students and charges them the higher tuition rate.

Ron Woodard, director of NC Listen, which opposes illegal immigration, said he doesn't believe immigration should be turned into a money-making scheme. An open-door policy would cost the state a lot more in the long run, he said.

"I think (the report is) a lot of gobbledy-goop," Woodard said. "If we have community college students illegally here and graduating and taking a job, that's going to keep another North Carolinian drawing unemployment and probably getting health benefits. So where's the savings?"

A community college system spokeswoman said the full board would receive the report Friday but isn't expected to discuss its contents until later.