State News

Community colleges look at lifting ban on illegal immigrants

Posted August 19, 2009 4:01 a.m. EDT
Updated August 19, 2009 7:07 p.m. EDT

— State officials plan to draft a policy that would allow illegal immigrants who have graduated from a U.S. high school to enroll for classes at one of North Carolina's 58 community colleges.

If approved by the board of the North Carolina Community College System, the policy would reverse a ban that has kept undocumented immigrants from attending two-year colleges statewide for the past year.

A board committee that discussed the issue Wednesday also recommended that the policy state that immigrants couldn't bump legal residents from classes or programs.

"We think, in all fairness, that the undocumented immigrant should not displace a student who is legally in this state," committee Chairman Stuart Fountain said.

The committee will review a draft of the policy on Thursday and could send it to the full board for approval. The board isn't expected to vote on the issue at its Friday meeting, however.

The country's third-largest community college system has changed its illegal immigrant admission policy four times since 2000.

A study commissioned by the system said taxpayers wouldn't be affected if immigrants paid out-of-state tuition rates of $7,000 a year.

Because of that financial burden, Fountain said, the system doesn't expect many illegal immigrants to enroll under the proposed policy.

"We do not anticipate that that will be a large population. It will not be a major revenue enhancement," he said.

Federal law requires illegal immigrants to pay out-of-state tuition, but immigrant advocates said they would like the state to challenge the law and allow undocumented people to pay in-state tuition.

"I think we want to give them every opportunity," said Melinda Wiggins of the Adelante Education Coalition, which focuses on education issues affecting Latino and migrant students and their families in North Carolina.

California, Illinois, New Mexico, New York and Texas allow illegal immigrants to enroll at in-state rates, while Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia and Virginia charge out-of-state tuition to those students.