NEW YORK — City University of New York is returning thousands of dollars to about 150 immigrant students who live illegally in the United States and overpaid for their tuition.
A student group called CUNY Dreamers told school officials late last year that many such immigrant students in New York paid higher, out-of-state tuition even though they were eligible, by law, for in-state rates, a difference of about $4,000 per semester.
A CUNY spokesman said administrators conducted a complete review of enrollments on CUNY’s 24 campuses and began the process of returning excess payments.
New York is among 19 states that allow in-state tuition for immigrant students who live illegally in the country. Its law, passed in 2002, offers the in-state rate to immigrant students who attended a New York state high school for two or more years or received their GED in the state.
The problem, students and some experts say, is that many immigrants are unaware they can pay in-state rates and others are afraid to disclose their immigration status to the schools for fear of being deported, even though such information is confidential under federal law.
“With anything that involves the intersection between immigration status and eligibility for services, there is always a lot of confusion,” said Tanya Broder, senior attorney at the National Immigration Law Center.
In the CUNY system, with 274,000 degree students, tuition rates vary but in-state tuition can cost about $3,000 per semester while out-of-state tuition can be more than $7,000 a semester.
Freddy Vicuna, a 20-year-old Ecuadorean who lives illegally in the United States and was overcharged, said CUNY returned him approximately $4,500 at the end of last year and more than $3,000 about two weeks ago.
“I was going to quit school. It was too expensive,” said Vicuna, a computer engineering student at City College of New York.
A spokeswoman for the State University of New York system said it has not been made aware of similar overpayments at the state’s other public universities.
Stanley De la Cruz, a student at the University at Albany and chairman of a group called SUNY Dreamers, said he has not talked with SUNY yet but plans to do so.