- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 21, 2002

Northern Virginia Community College, the state's largest community college, will continue to enroll illegal immigrants as students, despite an advisory opinion from state Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore recommending that undocumented residents be denied admission.
But the Annandale-based community college no longer will grant those students in-state tuition, meaning they will have to pay tuition rates nearly four times higher.
The policy change on tuition is in response to an opinion Mr. Kilgore's office issued in September. That memo advised all of the state's public colleges and universities that "illegal or undocumented aliens should not be enrolled." Furthermore, the memo states that if such students are enrolled, they are not permitted to receive in-state tuition.
The memo prompted criticism and protest from immigrant-rights groups, who said the policy unfairly targeted young people, many of whom were brought into the country by their parents and had no choice about their immigration status.
On Tuesday, Gov. Mark R. Warner said he would appoint a task force to study the issue.
At NVCC, 66 students were informed recently that they no longer could receive in-state tuition, said Max Bassett, the school's vice president for academic and student services. That includes 14 current students and 52 students who were enrolled but are not taking classes this semester. The school enrolls more than 63,000 students at its five campuses in a typical academic year.
But Mr. Bassett said the school will continue to enroll those students if they are willing to pay out-of-state tuition. He said the school's interpretation of Mr. Kilgore's memo is that nothing prohibits the school from doing so, despite his recommendation.
"We are an open-door community college, and we're here to serve the people in our community," Mr. Bassett said.
He said the school understands the security issues arising from the September 11 terrorist attacks, but that the school feels a need to enroll such students.
"It's an especially difficult issue for a community college that strives to be an open-admission institution," he said. "We're faced with people who came to the country as infants and have spent their entire lives here."
State Education Secretary Belle Wheelan, who had been NVCC's president before her appointment, said she understood the policy regarding in-state tuition, which was set by a 1996 federal law. NVCC officials said they were not clear about that policy until Mr. Kilgore issued his memo.
The issue of enrolling those students, though, is difficult, Miss Wheelan said.
"It's tough. Do we hold the children of those who came here illegally responsible for their families' actions? I don't know," she said.
As a practical matter, the loss of in-state tuition status may keep students from enrolling even when permitted. A student taking 12 credit hours at NVCC would pay $2,430 per semester at out-of-state rates compared with $678 in-state.
Other schools have different policies. James Madison University, for instance, has never allowed illegal aliens to enroll, so Mr. Kilgore's memo did not affect that school, said admissions director Michael Walsh.
Tisha Tallman, legal counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, which has led the opposition to Mr. Kilgore's memo, said she was glad that Mr. Warner was forming a task force to study the issue.
She acknowledged that Mr. Kilgore's position about in-state tuition was legally accurate, but said Virginia could follow the lead of other states, including New York, Texas and California, and pass a law that would change the eligibility requirements for in-state tuition so undocumented students could qualify.
Miss Tallman added that Mr. Kilgore's opinion that the students cannot enroll at all has no legal basis.
"But he is the state attorney general. State entities will listen to this memo, and we're afraid they will interpret this as a directive as opposed to a recommendation," she said.
Kilgore spokesman Tim Murtaugh said yesterday that while colleges have no choice about the issue of in-state tuition, they still may enroll those students.
"This is our recommendation of what the policy should be," he said. "We don't think that those who disregard the rules and laws of our society should have access to the benefits of this society."


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