Justice, 9-11 styleThis fall, some incoming students at North Carolina's community colleges are finding that the rules for getting educated just got more exclusive. Due to new federal requirements recently handed down by the U.S. Department of Justice after the Sept. 11 attacks, international students who do not have appropriate and valid student or work visas are being economically squeezed out of higher educational opportunities.
While the federal rules do not ban undocumented students from taking classes per se, the financial impact of these rules acts as an impenetrable barrier to undocumented workers and to rising and graduating undocumented seniors from area high schools. "We are not prohibited from enrolling undocumented aliens," says Ron Miriello, vice president for student services at Central Carolina Community College, "but the college is prohibited from providing any local, state or federal benefit ... [meaning] no financial assistance, which means they are not eligible for any scholarships or loans or subsidies, and they are also required to pay the out-of-state fee."
For CCCC, with campuses in Pittsboro and Sanford, that means tuition for undocumented students has gone from under $600 per semester to over $3,000, effectively shutting out any opportunity that the community college once held for job training or English language proficiency classes.
Although the rules are only a few months old, they are already generating concern. "I have been inundated with many, many telephone calls from our three county service area ... from people who were asking permission to let their employer pay their tuition ... and I'm saying, 'I'm sorry, you're gonna have to pay $3,000.'"
The same impact is being felt across the state at dozens of community colleges. Nolo Martinez, director of the Governor's Office on Hispanic and Latino Affairs, says it's hard to know how many people are being affected, but his office has received "more than a few complaints," mostly from undocumented workers who have lived here for five years or less. "It's a very difficult thing to track," he notes.
While hard numbers are unavailable, Miriello says that the federal restrictions are a "high topic of discussion" among his colleagues at other campuses. "My counterparts...throughout the 59 community colleges are very concerned on how are they going to be able to serve the people in their communities that want to attend their colleges," he says.
Miriello sees it as a tragedy for young people who, through no fault of their own, are branded as outsiders. Many undocumented college-age students came long ago with their families, went through years of public education, and aspire to the same educational and employment goals as their native classmates. While an undocumented student who has been here for years must pay out-of-state fees, "that same student's friend who graduated with him at Lee Senior High School, and may have only moved to North Carolina two years ago ... can walk across the street and attend the same full-time classes for $566," Miriello laments. "That puts it completely out of reach for those people who are here as undocumented or 'illegal' aliens."
Work-related tuition waivers, which helped undocumented workers take classes at their employers' expense, have also been affected by the new restrictions. "We've had to implement a procedure that prohibits [undocumented workers] from taking part in this waiver program," Miriello said. That means employers would have to pay the out-of-state tuition. As a result, few employers, if any, will send undocumented workers to community college for skills development or technical training.
It's still possible for state governments to come to the aid of undocumented students. Although federal funds will remain off-limits, the General Assembly can provide financial aid, and it can waive the tightening of in-state tuition requirements. "The state legislature has been asked by many organizations and educators to look into this easing of restrictions," says Miriello, as has been done already in two other states with large Latino populations. Both Texas and California have passed legislation waiving the out-of-state tuition requirements. "They waived [out-of-state tuition rules] to their undocumented aliens because there are so many in their states that are doing important jobs and living there ... they want to be able to offer them college educations to better their lives," Miriello says.
The new federal rules also require community colleges to keep tabs on international students for the INS. Starting in January 2003, community colleges will be required to track international students and report to the Immigration and Naturalization Service via an INS Web site, a requirement also stemming from last year's terrorist attacks. "All we're going to be doing is reporting information that we have knowledge of," pertaining to categories or validity of student visas, Miriello says, but "we will probably be mandated to report" knowledge of illegal status.