Twelve years’ worth of good grades, significant extracurricular involvement, at least three recommendation letters, well-written essays and lots of money for application fees. That’s generally how much it takes to get into a good college. Unfortunately, in Georgia, many qualified high school students will no longer even have the option of applying to some of the state’s top public schools, thanks to a recent policy that prohibits certain universities from matriculating undocumented residents.
The policy, which passed last month, affects some of the state’s top colleges, including Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of Georgia (UGA), which were ranked 36th and 56th respectively by the U.S. News & World Report in 2011. The proposal has been at least one year in the making, and, according to a FOX News story from last Thursday, it was devised out of fear that the state’s best schools were being “overrun by illegal immigrants, that taxpayers were subsidizing their education and legal residents were being displaced.”
The amount of misinformation and ignorance surrounding this witch hunt is stunning at best, downright disgusting at worst. A 2010 article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution noted that of more than 310,000 students enrolled in Georgia’s university system, barely 500 are classified as undocumented. Call my math faulty, but a laughable 0.16 percent hardly seems to merit a loaded adjective like “overrun.” Maybe some students do figure out a way to slip through the cracks, but the fact remains that those who cannot provide the required documentation do not receive in-state tuition.
The University of Georgia’s website states that a student who qualifies for in-state tuition pays about $20,820 a year without any other state grants, while an out-of-state student pays nearly twice as much at $39,030 a year. It’s not easy to get in-state tuition, either. To qualify for in-state tuition at UGA, the applicant must be a citizen or a legal permanent resident and provide proof that he or she has lived in the state for at least 12 consecutive months preceding the date of matriculation. In addition, the student still has to provide proof of payment of the Georgia income tax, which is what helps prop up the state’s public university system in the first place.
Obviously, no one is actually getting a free ride. The smear campaign about undocumented residents stealing seats from legal residents and going to college on other people’s taxes buys into insulting stereotypes, and its success relies on the public to not do its own research on the issue. And the ramifications of these measures, which have already passed in other states like South Carolina as well, are regrettable.
Eric Cuevas, a recruiter for Georgia Perimeter College, remarked to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution last October that the policy has made the affected students afraid to apply to college out of fear of deportation: “Do you know how hard it is to get a Hispanic student to even consider college? This just made it a lot harder.”
No one can deny that education is one of the most reliable ways to advance one’s situation, so it seems absurd to me to deny qualified students who only want to succeed and contribute back to the community. If the immigration status of these students is the real question at hand, then the state needs to explore ways to fast-track academically qualified, promising students of good character to citizenship or lawful residence.
To this aim, one seemingly promising measure, the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, seeks to establish conditional permanent residency for students with clean track records who had arrived in the U.S. illegally as minors, providing the chance to gain citizenship later through college or military service. Sounds fair, but guess how hard it is to pass a bill like this? Well, it hasn’t been passed yet, and it was written more than 10 years ago, re-introduced as recently as last year.
While it doesn’t seem like those in charge will budge any time soon, many are thankfully taking the issue into their own hands. Five professors at the University of Georgia recently declared their plans to teach students who have been affected by the policy through an unaffiliated program, which they will create and name Freedom University. While the credits may not be accepted like those from an accredited university, the effort still underscores the significance and immutability of education. It reminds us of what the board has lost sight of and what’s really important at the end of the day.
Managing Editor Catherine Cai is a College senior from Atlanta.