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GGC looks at students' citizenship

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Like other public colleges and universities in Georgia, Georgia Gwinnett College is working to carry out a mandate and verify the citizenship status of students by mid-August.

University System of Georgia Chancellor Erroll Davis and the state Board of Regents ordered colleges to review the tuition charges placed on all students after it was disclosed that Kennesaw State University charged an illegal immigrant student in-state tuition.

"Georgia Gwinnett College President Daniel J. Kaufman has directed the Office of Academic and Student Affairs, which oversees the Office of Enrollment Management, to review the Board of Regents' recent decision and move as quickly as possible to develop a plan for meeting the new requirements," GGC spokeswoman Sally Ramey said. "GGC has adhered to all Board of Regents guidelines and policies to date and will comply with the new requirements."

In the application process, Georgia Gwinnett College follows Board of Regents policy, which includes several checks and balances related to residency, Ramey said. Students are responsible for filling out their applications truthfully, but there are a series of questions on the application to determine residency that are designed to flag out-of-state students -- which could include both legal and illegal immigrants as well as U.S. citizens who are not legal residents of Georgia.

If students are flagged as out-of-state when the application is processed, then they must provide proof of Georgia residency to obtain in-state tuition. Students must initiate this request, and verification is done by using a variety of documents such as a Georgia income tax return from the previous year of either the student or his or her parents or guardians, Ramey said.

Students who are not U.S. citizens are charged out-of-state tuition, Ramey said.

In a letter to the Board of Regents, members of the Georgia Senate applauded the board's efforts at bringing the schools into compliance with state and federal law with respect to in-state tuition eligibility.

But the letter, signed by 15 senators, including Sen. Don Balfour, R-Snellville, says more needs to be done.

"Persons not lawfully present in the United States are not eligible, regardless of tuition rates, to attend taxpayer-supported colleges and universities in Georgia," the letter states. "Beyond the clear inappropriateness of denying a legal Georgia resident an educational opportunity in favor of an unlawful alien is the inescapable lack of wisdom in forcing Georgia taxpayers to subsidize the education of a person who upon graduation is not legally eligible to be employed."

In-state tuition covers less than 30 percent of the total cost to educate a student in the public college system, the letter says. Out-of-state tuition rates, although significantly higher, do not cover the entire cost of educating a student.

The letter says U.S. federal law, as well as state law, defines postsecondary education as a public benefit not afforded to illegal immigrants.

"We regret the inaccurate legal advice upon which current admissions guidelines are based," the letter states, "and urge the Board of Regents to address its noncompliant policy."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.