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Lawsuit Results in New S.C. Guidelines on Tuition

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Students who live in South Carolina and are U.S. citizens but whose parents can’t prove they’re in the country legally should be considered for in-state tuition, according to new guidelines under consideration.

The recommendations proposed by the Commission on Higher Education come after the Southern Poverty Law Center sued in June. The lawsuit alleges that commission regulations unconstitutionally deny college scholarships to children of unauthorized immigrants and force them to pay out-of-state tuition even if they were born and raised in South Carolina.

Because of the legal wrangling, two students named in the lawsuit were able to enroll in the College of Charleston and Trident Technical College this semester paying in-state rates. A third student received a lottery-backed scholarship for which she qualified, enabling her to continue her education at private Converse College, Law Center attorney Michelle Lapointe told The Associated Press.

The three named plaintiffs are South Carolina high school graduates who have lived in the state between 10 and 19 years.

Lapointe hopes the guidelines clear up the matter for other qualified, aspiring college students who otherwise can’t afford the higher tuition costs.

“It’s a movement in the right direction,” Lapointe said of the proposal. “Unfortunately, there have been students denied for years. We would hope going forward that schools understand this to be clear guidance.”

The agency’s governing board will vote on the guidelines Thursday, according to the meeting’s agenda.

“Students with an undocumented parent or guardian should not gain any advantage over other students,” the three-page proposal reads. “However, a U.S. citizen student who can establish domicile in South Carolina should not be denied in-state residency status on the basis of his/her parent’s undocumented status.”

Regardless of the vote, the guidelines stress that decisions in such cases ultimately rest with each college. That decision will be final and the commission will not penalize the school either way.

No hearing is scheduled in the case. Still pending is a motion seeking class-action status for an estimated 170 citizen children of unauthorized immigrants who seek to enroll in college in South Carolina each year.

The suit stemmed from how agency regulations determine the residency of students who aren’t living independently on their own income. For tuition purposes, the residency of such dependent children is based on the status of their parents or legal guardian.

Ordinarily, that means children of unauthorized immigrants can’t qualify for in-state benefits. However, if the student is a U.S. citizen, “the analysis should not stop there,” the proposed guidelines read.

The commission recommends that students in that scenario be allowed to rebut the denial by submitting documents such as a high school transcript, attendance records, state driver’s license and utility bills.

But students may not know they have a right to appeal, Lapointe said.

The proposed guidelines “still set up too many roadblocks because, essentially, we’re making them jump through additional hoops other U.S. citizens don’t have to jump through,” she said.

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