The University System of Georgia's Board of Regents last week directed its member institutions to verify that no illegal immigrants are paying in-state tuition or getting financial aid. The directive followed the discovery earlier this year that Kennesaw State University charged such a student in-state tuition.
Officials at the Rome-based Georgia Highlands College, which operates a Cartersville campus in addition to several other sites, say they believe their current operations dealing with the issue sufficiently follow the system's directive.
"When Senate Bill 529 was [enacted] in 2007, the university system implemented a number of different policies and procedures to processing admissions applications and to determine residency for all applicants -- we've been following those policies and procedures since 2007," said Todd Jones, Georgia Highlands' director of admissions. "Georgia Highlands College has taken it a step further -- when we identify an undocumented student, we developed a code to help track those students in our system, so if they reapply in the future, we know that we need updated information for them in case their immigration status had changed.
"We've taken those steps in the past and continue to follow those policies and procedures to remain in compliance with the university system's standards and the state and federal requirements," he added.
Jones estimated that the school has more than 100 students whose immigration status is in the process of changing or has just recently changed.
The cost differential between residents and out-of-state students is substantial. Jones said nonresidents pay about three times the tuition costs of an in-state student. Georgia residents who attend the college this fall will pay a semester tuition of $1,199.
Georgia Highlands and the university system have in place several exceptions to the residency rules. Students living in an out-of-state county bordering Georgia, for instance, may be able to obtain in-state tuition at an approved state school.
"Part of the policies and procedures with the residency is to do internal audits," Jones said. "We do have an audit system in place, and for what the Board of Regents is requesting, we will proceed with the audit that we would do anyways, so it's not really a change in our procedures. We often audit our files, both on residency and waivers of out-of-state tuition, and that's commonplace."
"At this point, as far as we know, the system that we have in place and the procedures that have been developed as a result of the present law that we're working under are working for us," said GHC President Randy Pierce, who added that no non-citizens at the college have been waived out-of-state tuition.
"Short of checking the birth certificate of every student who applies to the college -- and again, we have procedures in place -- if students answer questions honestly, then we have mechanisms and enough questions in place that they are going to raise other questions for us and cause us to ask more questions," Pierce added.
The regents appointed a committee to examine the most efficient ways to check residency status to prevent illegal immigrants from getting in-state tuition.
Pierce said he believes discussion on the immigrant student issue will continue, with further directives from the state level possibly following.
"It seems to me based on the articles I'm reading that this is a pretty hot-button item," he said, "and I think we're probably going to have to do more in the future so that we ensure that we're pretty much doing what the Legislature and the Board tell us what to do."
-- Some information from the Associated Press was used in this report.