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NC System Reverses Itself, Won’t Admit Undocumented

North Carolina community colleges will have to wait longer for a resolution to a controversy over admitting undocumented students that has been brewing  since the system issued a directive last December to do so as part of the prevailing open-admissions policy.

In a letter dated May 6,  J.B. Kelly, the general counsel for the State Attorney General’s office, advised the system to go back to a previous policy of not enrolling them on the grounds that federal law restricts undocumented immigrants from receiving most public benefits.

On Tuesday, the North Carolina Community College System issued a press release announcing that based on the Attorney General’s advice, beginning immediately, the system “will no longer admit … undocumented immigrants into curriculum degree programs.”

“This action is in response to the recent advice provided to the NCCCS general counsel by the Office of the Attorney General on May 6, 2008 and a subsequent meeting with the AG’s Office on Monday, May 12,” the release said. “The System has asked the AG’s Office to pursue further federal clarification.”

“We asked the Attorney General’s Office for clarification of our present policy and will abide by their advice,” said System President R. Scott Ralls.  “We will continue to be a primary source of economic advancement for the state by providing world-class education and workforce training to every student eligible to enroll.”

The Raleigh News and Observer had earlier reported that the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement had issued a statement saying the decision to enroll such students was up to the schools. According to the newspaper, the statement said: “It is left for the school to decide whether or not to enroll … The Department of Homeland Security does not require any school to determine a student’s status.”

Audrey Bailey, a public information officer for the system, told Diverse on Tuesday that system officials went back to the Attorney General’s office to see if its position had changed and determined it had not. They then asked the office to seek federal clarification. “If they come back and say its O.K., then by all means the doors are wide open,” she said.

In its announcement Tuesday, however, the NCCC recalled that in December 2007 it had sent a memo to its 58 member colleges mandating that they admit undocumented students at the out-of-state tuition, an amount calculated as 140 percent of the cost of providing a full-time education to one student.

“The November directive was the result of the NCCCS interpretation of an earlier Attorney General advisory letter that said community colleges could not impose nonacademic criteria for admission, which supported the “open door” policy of the NCCCS,” Tuesday’s announcement said.

“We have accepted the Attorney General’s offer to seek federal clarification of this issue, and they are pursing that information,” said Ralls on Tuesday. “Until we receive further clarification, we will no longer admit individuals classified as illegal or undocumented immigrants into curriculum degree programs.”

High school students who take community college courses are not affected. NCCCS said colleges were being notified to allow students admitted under the earlier directive to continue studies at the out-of-state tuition rate. Officials said that for the 2006-07 academic year, 112 curriculum degree students without proper residency documentation were enrolled among a total of 296,540 students in the same category. More than 800,000 students are enrolled in the 58 colleges. 

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