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Office of the Chancellor

Testimony by Chancellor Hank Huckaby of the University System of Georgia on SB 458

Print friendly Modified February 27, 2012

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Before the Senate Judiciary Committee

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for the opportunity to come before you to discuss SB 458.

The issue before us is a complex one with strong feelings on all sides. What is great about our nation is that we have a forum like this to express our views about public policy. I appreciate the opportunity to do so, and will do so briefly and respectfully.

We all know of the vigorous debate about undocumented immigrants receiving public benefits. In the university system, the debate centers on whether undocumented students should be admitted and if so, how much should they pay. Several weeks ago, I asked the House Higher Education committee considering HB 59 to permit the Regents’ current policy to continue. Today, I am here to make the same request of you. The regents’ policy was approved in October 2010 and its four points went into force last fall semester. They are:

  • The addition of language on all applications that outlines the legal penalties for “false swearing,” or knowingly providing incorrect information on the forms.
  • The addition of language on all applications that, for the first time, requires applicants to state whether they are seeking in-state tuition. This helps institutions to make a decision on whether or not additional residency verification is necessary.
  • A requirement that USG institutions verify the lawful presence in the United States of any applicant seeking in-state tuition and not applying for federal financial aid, which has its own stringent verification processes. Approximately 60 percent of our students do apply for federal aid. If verification cannot be made, these students are charged out-of-state tuition.
  • A policy that any person not lawfully present in the United States shall not be eligible for admission to any USG institution which, for the two most recent academic years, did not admit all academically qualified applicants.

In short, we believe this policy assures undocumented students do not receive a public benefit since they must pay out of state tuition and that no undocumented student will be taking a seat in a class away from a Georgia student, since our selective institutions are not allowed to admit undocumented students.

I believe our current policy addresses the concerns some of you have that the System should ensure that all undocumented students pay out-of-state tuition, that no Georgians should be denied a seat in college if they were academically qualified because of an undocumented student, and that educating undocumented students would not cost Georgia taxpayers. I respectfully ask you to allow our policy to work to determine if it addresses your concerns. We will monitor it closely through both auditing and staff reviews and will be happy to report to you on the results of that audit. I can assure that we will respond to correct any exceptions should we identify non-compliance .

Of the 318,000 students enrolled in the System last fall, less than one-tenth of one percent are undocumented. All pay the out-of-state tuition rate, which at slightly more than three times the in-state tuition more than covers the cost of education. No one gets a free benefit. The five institutions under the admission ban admitted no undocumented students.

I would like to raise a related issue, and I do so with utmost respect for this committee. Graduating more students is a key goal of the System as we work to help Georgia prosper. Even for those who are here through no fault of their own, it makes sense to me that we should educate them to the highest level possible. It helps our state economically, culturally, and educationally.

Georgia is in the mainstream with its current law. Only two states, Alabama and South Carolina, ban undocumented students from attending any public college or university. Texas is actually more liberal than Georgia, as it allows undocumented students to attend and pay in-state tuition. Like most states, Georgia allows college attendance for undocumented students at the out-of-state tuition rate. Like most states, Georgia’s current policy is a common sense approach to a complex issue.

Long-term, we want to protect Georgians, promote the state as a place to do business, and encourage all individuals to pursue education, but we do not wish to offer anyone an undue benefit. I believe that the current Board policy achieves all of these goals and would ask you to consider giving us the opportunity to address this through board policy. We will continue to work closely with you to make sure that our policy achieves our common aims.

I appreciate your service to our state very much, and also appreciate the opportunity to appear before you today. Thank you.