Policymakers mull proposals that would cut NC citizens’ access to UNC

Two ideas under discussion in North Carolina would make it more difficult for legal residents of the state to be admitted to the University of North Carolina.

The first is a bill before the state Senate to extend in-state tuition rates to illegal immigrants and other noncitizens. Senate Bill 987, currently before committee, would amend the General Statutes to extend resident tuition status to any “individual who (i) has attended school in North Carolina for at least four consecutive years and (ii) has received a high school diploma from a school within North Carolina or has obtained a general education diploma (GED) issued in North Carolina.”

Sponsored by Sen. Eric Reeves, D-Wake, and cosponsored by Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson; Sen. Fletcher L. Hartsell, Jr., R-Cabarrus; and Sen. Jeanne H. Lucas, D-Durham, the bill is similar to last year’s failed Senate Bill 812. That bill, introduced by Sen. William N. Martin, D-Guilford, would have required illegal immigrants to have only two years’ attendance at a N.C. high school and a diploma in order to qualify for in-state tuition. Lucas is the only one among SB 987’s sponsors to have also sponsored last year’s measure.

In late May, Hispanic activists protested outside the General Assembly in favor of the measure.

The issue of granting undocumented individuals resident tuition levels is before several state legislative bodies, and it has been passed by some states, including California and Texas. The issue was quashed in Virginia in November 2002 when the attorney general, Jerry W. Kilgore, issued a memo stating that Virginia’s public colleges and universities should not admit illegal immigrants and should reserve their slots for legal residents and taxpayers.

In November 2001, officials at the City University of New York reversed a long-standing policy giving illegal immigrants access to in-state tuition rates. CUNY’s vice chancellor for legal affairs, Frederick P. Schaffer, said the policy violated federal immigration law. The New York legislature later voted to extend in-state tuition back to illegal immigrants who attended high school in New York for two years and applied for admission in a public New York institution within five years of receiving a diploma.

The federal immigration law that CUNY’s vice chancellor argued the policy violated was passed in 1996. It reads in part, “An alien who is not lawfully present in the United States shall not be eligible on the basis of residence within a state (or political subdivision) for any postsecondary education benefit unless a citizen or national of the United States is eligible for such a benefit (in no less an amount, duration, and scope) without regard to whether the citizen or national is such a resident.”

The second idea under discussion was first proposed in UNC-CH’s newly released academic plan (www.unc.edu/provost/academicplan03.pdf), now before the university’s trustees. It urges trustees to “Reassess the implications of the 18 percent cap on undergraduate out-of-state students.” If the trustees agree, they would have to gain the UNC Board of Governors’ approval, then be accepted by the legislature, for the proposal to become policy.

According to the UNC-CH plan, the state’s current cap “is more restrictive and rigid compared with those governing UNC-Chapel Hill’s peer campuses.” Worse, some of the brightest students in N.C. go out of state for a college education. As a result, “the University must decline admission to thousands of exceedingly bright out-of-state applicants whose presence on campus would add to the geographic, intellectual, artistic, and cultural diversity of the student population, as well as offset the ‘brain drain’ of North Carolina talent to other states.” UNC-CH wants “relief from the current out-of-state enrollment cap.”

In an interview with The News & Observer of Raleigh on June 2, UNC Board of Trustees chairman Tim Burnett said the cap should be raised to 25 percent.

Burnett laid out several cases for raising the out-of-state enrollment cap. He said that an “effective argument with the legislature” would be if UNC made the case based on “the diversity factor,” meaning increasing the proportion of out-of-state students would “enrich greatly” the education “experience” of those N.C. students who do gain admission to UNC-CH by that diversity. Burnett noted also that “we have 15 other campuses that provide a baccalaureate curriculum, so everyone’s not going to get into Chapel Hill.”

Burnett also cited the familiar justification that “our education system is the best economic engine we have” and that “the brainpower of our citizens is the future of this state” in order to make the case for “giv[ing] them [sic — the antecedent is ‘our citizens’ although the intent is clearly ‘UNC-CH students’] the best education we can.”

The latter justification seems almost at odds with Burnett’s third justification, in which he argued “we have a lot of alumni who are living elsewhere and doing well and wanting their children to do well.” This argument was the money factor, especially “[a]t a time when we’re relying on more private money.” Because “we have to turn [children of those out-of-state alumni] away from Carolina,” Burnett said, “that makes it kind of hard to get them to stroke a pen across a check.”

Raising the out-of-state enrollment cap from 18 to 25 percent, however, is essentially the same as lowering the in-state enrollment “cap” from 82 to 75 percent. It would effectively be a real cut in in-state enrollment. For UNC-CH’s in-state enrollment (the total number of in-state students) not to decline under that change, it would have to increase its overall enrollment by at least 9 1/3 percent.

Readers may recall that one of the key selling points of the higher education bond referendum in 2000 was a pending enrollment increase in North Carolina.