The state Board of Regents decided Wednesday to ban illegal immigrants from Georgia Tech, the University of Georgia and three other schools beginning next fall.
The ruling was spurred by complaints the university system has been swamped with illegal immigrant students.
The regents approved the stricter policy over the protests of a coalition of immigrant rights activists urging it be rejected, including a group from Gainesville State College in Oakwood.
Under the new policies, University System of Georgia schools will be barred from accepting illegal immigrant applicants if they have rejected any academically qualified applicants in the two most recent academic years.
Other schools affected by the ruling include Georgia State University, Medical College of Georgia and Georgia College & State University.
Though Gainesville State is not included, professor
Tonna Harris-Bosselmann, who attended the meeting along with five students from the school's Students for a Progressive Society club, said she believes the impact of the decision could be far reaching.
"This puts us one step closer to banning access to higher education for all universities," Harris-Bosselmann said.
The regents voted on four recommended new policies at the meeting after a committee investigated complaints that Georgia taxpayers were subsidizing the education of undocumented students through in-state tuition and that undocumented students were taking seats from academically qualified Georgians.
There was little discussion and little opposition to the recommendations.
That committee reported that out of preliminary fall 2010 student enrollment of 310,361 students, 501 are in the country illegally or have incomplete documentation - 182 new students and 319 returning students. All are paying out-of-state tuition.
A coalition of immigrant rights and civil liberties groups sent a letter Tuesday and held a news conference just before the regents' meeting urging the regents to reject the proposal.
Students at Gainesville State sent the board a petition containing about 400 signatures from students and their supporters in the University System of Georgia.
The petition said some may believe the policies are necessary to protect state taxpayers, however, Georgians do not pay for the education of undocumented students.
Gainesville State student Taylor Lanham said institutions actually make a profit because they pay out-of-state tuition rates.
The students also argued the issue from a humanitarian standpoint.
"A policy that denies someone who spent their life here and went to a Georgia high school - there's no other word for that than injustice," he said.
Many of the students are brought to the U.S. by their parents as young children and have grown up here, said Azadeh Shahshahani of the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia. It is a "matter of fundamental fairness" to allow these illegal immigrant students to attend these schools, she said.
Gainesville State students say they will continue to raise awareness on campus, as some lawmakers have plans to introduce legislation barring illegal immigrants from all public colleges. The club likely will host a panel on immigration this year, Lanham said.
"We want to keep our petition growing," he said.
The board was forced to address the issue of illegal immigrant students in Georgia after a high-profile case involving Jessica Colotl, an illegal immigrant and Kennesaw State University student, who was nearly deported after an arrest in March.
She was arrested after a traffic stop for driving without a license. When Cobb County authorities determined she was in the country illegally, they turned her over to immigration authorities. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agreed to defer action on her case for a year, allowing her to complete her classes.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.