Some colleges in the region will review admissions policies and could make changes by next year after the state Board of Regents voted Wednesday to enforce stricter rules for illegal immigrant applicants to Georgia colleges.
The decision was in response to complaints that Georgia taxpayers were subsidizing the education of undocumented students through in-state tuition, and that such students are taking spots from academically qualified Georgians.
The new policies will bar illegal immigrants from attending the state's five most selective universities next fall. Georgia was second in the United States, after South Carolina, to enact such a ban.
Though the rules only apply to colleges with a selective admissions process, including the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech, this may not be the final action on this issue.
Lawmakers plan to introduce a bill to bar these students from all public colleges: the 35 institutions in the University System of Georgia and the 26 in the Technical College System of Georgia.
Kate Maine, spokesperson for North Georgia College & State University in Dahlonega, said the college will continue under its current policies. But the school will remain in alignment with policies set by the Board of Regents, she said.
"There's no talk of changing policies now for admission," she said. "We will update any policies that need to be modified under the guidelines issued this week."
Each school in the state system is required to verify the lawful presence of students seeking in-state tuition. Colleges can use various methods, such as federal databases.
Current applications at North Georgia and Gainesville State College, as well as most others, already have questions pertaining to student residency.
"We ask about 12 or 15 questions concerning their status as a resident in the state of Georgia," Mack Palmour, director of admissions at Gainesville State College said.
Colleges verify student residency to set out-of-state tuition, a requirement for all illegal immigrants in Georgia.
TCSG, Gainesville State and North Georgia have no current plans to bar illegal immigrants from attending the schools. Students will be allowed enroll so long as they meet the academic criteria of the college.
The Board of Regents ruling says students will now be required to sign a form declaring, to the best of their knowledge, that they are eligible for in-state tuition. If found lying, they could face a $1,000 fine, jail time and dismissal from college.
Palmour said the only known changes to the Gainesville State admissions policy next year isn't related to illegal immigrants. Next year, the school will require students to meet the Freshman Index, which is calculated by SAT or ACT scores.
Mike Light, spokesperson for the TCSG, said the system will review its admission policies under the instruction of Commissioner Ron Jackson. He said he believes few illegal immigrants attend the state's technical colleges, probably fewer than 200.
"We don't believe it's the case here that if an undocumented person did attend the college, that they would be taking a seat belonging to a lawful student," he said.
Light adds that he can foresee some challenges with the new requirement for schools to verify a students' legal status, if applied to TCSG. To make sure it's handled correctly, it could require some additional staff.
"Any additional duties expected of our staff, while dealing with huge increases in enrollment and budget cuts, is challenging," he said.
Light said it's too early to tell what changes, if any, would be made to the applications for next year. However, they may include a stronger statement warning students who lie on applications that they face penalties, he said.