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November 3, 2001

CUNY Raises Tuition Rates for Foreigners Here Illegally


After a policy review prompted by the events of Sept. 11, the City University of New York is about to raise tuition for students who are illegal immigrants.

The university, which announced the move in a memorandum sent yesterday to CUNY's trustees, campus presidents and other administrators, said it was raising the rates to comply with a five-year-old federal law requiring that illegal immigrants not be given preferential tuition treatment over students from out of state.

CUNY's general counsel, Frederick P. Schaffer, began to review the university's policies regarding foreign students after the terrorist attacks. "We are doing this to comply with the law," he said.

Currently, CUNY charges illegal immigrants its lower, in-state tuition rate if they can show that they have lived in New York State for at least 12 months or have attended high school in the state for at least two semesters. Beginning next semester, they must pay the higher, out-of- state rate.

Tuition for state residents is $1,250 per semester at CUNY's two-year community colleges and $1,600 per semester at its four-year colleges. Students who live outside the state are charged $1,538 per semester at the community colleges and $3,400 per semester at the four-year colleges.

Michael A. Olivas, a law professor at the University of Houston Law Center and director of its Institute for Higher Education Law and Governance, said yesterday that he thought CUNY was being unnecessarily restrictive in its new policy.

"It's a very narrow reading of the federal statute and I urge them to read it as expansively as possible, like Texas and California," he said.

Both states passed laws this year that will make students eligible for in-state tuition rates after they have lived in those states at least three years, he said.

"That is better than nothing, but it is a long time for someone who in all other respects lives and works here and pays taxes," Mr. Olivas said.

"To charge them out-of-state tuition and allow them to attend ignores their poverty," Mr. Olivas added. "The only way they have a chance to attend - even if they have in-state tuition - is through extraordinary sacrifice and efforts on their parts."

CUNY, whose mission has long been to educate poor people, including immigrants, said it did not know how many illegal immigrants were enrolled this year. But last year, 2,788 out of the nearly 200,000 CUNY students identified themselves that way. Since CUNY does not require proof of a student's status, it does not know how many of its other students are in the United States illegally.

The university asks students at registration whether they are United States citizens. If they are not, they are asked about their visa status.

Mr. Olivas estimates that 25,000 illegal immigrants are enrolled in public universities and community colleges in the United States, with the heaviest concentrations in Texas and California.

He said that while some may have come to the United States shortly before enrolling in college, many have grown up in the United States and attended public schools. A 1982 Supreme Court ruling allowed children without documentation to enroll in public schools without regard to their immigration status.

"We're really talking about kids who have had to be here many, many years," Mr. Olivas said, adding that typically, the parents of these children came to the United States, started working and paying taxes, and then brought their children here.

CUNY's policy of charging illegal immigrants the lower rate reflected the city's historic embrace of immigrants and conformed to a policy laid out by Mayor Edward I. Koch in 1989 and reaffirmed by Mayors David N. Dinkins and Rudolph W. Giuliani.

In reviewing the policy, Mr. Schaffer came across a brief section of a 1996 immigration law that said illegal immigrants should not be eligible for educational benefits not available to American citizens from other states, CUNY officials said.

When the law was passed, CUNY lawyers reviewed it and decided that the university should not make changes until regulations were issued to carry out the law. Mr. Schaffer said he concluded, however, that at this point the university had no choice but to change its tuition policy.