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Colleges do many checks to establish residency
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The Board of Regents’ Residency Verification Committee continued ongoing talks about students’ immigration status in Georgia’s colleges on Tuesday, but committee members decided not to take any action just yet.

In a meeting at Georgia Institute of Technology, presidents and admissions directors talked about their current verification process — self-certification.

“What we do here in the University System of Georgia is ask ‘Are you a U.S. citizen?’ and give definitions,” said Kimberly Ballard-Washington, assistant vice chancellor for Board of Regents Legal Affairs. “We can then ask for more information to make sure students classify themselves properly.”

But the process doesn’t just leave it up to the students, said Tim Renick, associate provost and chief enrollment officer for Georgia State University.

“The one issue I emphasized (to the committee) is that there are a lot of verifications that are going on beyond a student self-identifying as a resident,” he said. “Any student that applies for federal financial aid is automatically subjected to two additional verifications by the Social Security Administration and the Department of Homeland Security.”

At Georgia State, about 90 percent of students apply for some type of financial aid. At some campuses across the state, 97 percent of students seek aid.

“It’s a misnomer that all we do is trust students to tell us the truth,” Renick said. “At Georgia State, we also have a series of nine reports that classify students for tuition or by citizenship. For example, someone receiving in-state tuition may have an address outside of Georgia if parents are divorced, but we run an extra check.”

Ballard-Washington also discussed two other verification processes used across the nation. The Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements program, run by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, is an electronic system that verifies residency status.

Schools in Colorado and South Carolina use the program. Each student verification costs 50 cents and takes about five seconds, but problems could come with cost and timeliness.

“If the program needs more information, that can take three to five business days, and if it requires even more documentation, that can take 10 to 12 days and $1.50 per student,” Ballard-Washington said. “That doesn’t include the time it takes to request the information from students and the time it takes to send the paperwork. Some of our colleges enroll right up to the first day of classes.”

Under the third system, all students are required to submit birth certificates and driver’s license numbers, and some paperwork must be notarized. The committee will now consider whether the current system is sufficient or if it should be changed.

In June, Chancellor Erroll Davis asked colleges to evaluate all incoming students for the fall and submit a report about undocumented students who may be paying in-state tuition. By early estimates, Ballard-Washington said 100 undocumented students may be found of the 320,000 students across the state.

“And what we’re seeing is that the undocumented students aren’t getting in-state tuition,” she said. “They’re being properly categorized.”

The committee is still focusing on one issue — whether students are paying the correct amount of tuition. Though many Georgia residents have asked the Board of Regents to address whether undocumented students should attend college at all, the committee isn’t yet tackling the question.

“The crux of the issue is getting our hands on where we are as a system with tuition,” said Mack Palmour, Gainesville State College director of admission. “We’ve run some data to look at our students, and everyone seems to be classified correctly.”

For the schools that are finding undocumented students, the majority aren’t intentionally providing false information, said John Millsaps, Board of Regents director of communications.

“The students, who are from all parts of the world, may not understand what their status is during admission,” he said. “For example, a student whose family had a tourist visa or other documentation may not have the student visa just yet. We’re looking at very, very small numbers here.”

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