12/02/07 — Cost of tuition could keep illegal immigrants out of community colleges

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Cost of tuition could keep illegal immigrants out of community colleges

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on December 2, 2007 2:11 AM

Having an open door admissions policy at community colleges, even for illegal immigrants, is essential to a successful future workforce, officials say.

The state's community college system recently defined a policy concerning admission of undocumented individuals, reversing a 2004 ruling that gave campuses discretion over whether to admit them. At the time, at least 37 of the 58 community colleges already did so.

The latest policy states that potential students must be at least 18 years old and have graduated from high school, and requires them to be charged the out-of-state tuition rate.

Legally, community colleges cannot ban students based on immigration status. On most campuses, undocumented students have already been allowed to enroll in courses and programs that are not for curriculum credit.

The Board of Trustees at Wayne Community College approved its own policy Sept. 25. Prior to that, there was none geared toward the growing immigrant population, officials said.

President Dr. Kay Albertson said it was important to look at the college's "lack of policy."

"We had no history of undocumented immigrants in WCC curriculum programs," she said, noting that "we do serve undocumented immigrants in the programs that are part of our partnership with Wayne County Public Schools -- Jump Start, Early/Middle College High School and through continuing education and basic skills programs, particularly English as a Second Language."

Students already enrolled in the high school level programs should be given the opportunity for further education, Dr. Albertson said.

"They are young students who had no voice in crossing the border. They cannot help their situation. Why punish them?" she said.

Having to pay out-of-state rates, though, might deter large numbers from enrolling, since those now eligible might find college enrollment cost-prohibitive.

Tara Humphries, public information officer at WCC, said the per semester rate there is $700 for in-state students, as compared to $3,760 for those considered out-of-state.

At James Sprunt Com-munity College, where undocumented students have always been admitted, Dean of College Advancement Dr. Tom Fife said money keeps enrollment low.

"We have very few if any (enrolled), and it would be for that reason," he said.

The policy might be "almost a moot point," said Dr. Brantley Briley, president of Lenoir Community College, where out-of-state students pay an estimated $7,000 a year.

"Many of them would find it unaffordable anyway," he explained.

The debate over the policy rages on, Briley said, but at least taxpayers should not be as concerned about tax dollars being spent on illegal immigrants.

Philosophically speaking, though, Briley said, "I'm good with the policy."

"I'm an educator. I believe that as a president of a community college when an adult living in your service area wants to attend your institution to better himself or herself, you enroll that student. My role is to take these students educationally speaking as far as they can go."