I am sharing this statement adapted from a letter written to me by Eric Welch, a J.E.B. Stuart High School teacher, describing a serious barrier to higher education that must be eliminated:
Over the past year some Virginia public colleges have been issuing demands to student applicants to provide their parents’ immigration documents in order to qualify for in-state tuition. These students are U.S. citizens and Virginia residents but have been told they must provide their parents’ immigration documents to receive in-state tuition. Without providing these documents, they have been denied in-state tuition, which frequently prohibits them from attending college due to the cost.
Three colleges have insisted that parental documents are the only acceptable documents that can be used for qualifying for in-state tuition are Christopher Newport University, George Mason University, and Old Dominion University. Many teachers and counselors in Fairfax County who work with students on college applications have received complaints about this arbitrary application of the Virginia Code’s language defining eligible recipients of in-state tuition. Not all public colleges have this interpretation of the state law as demonstrated by the experience of some students who applied to multiple public colleges and were not faced with this request.
The State Commission on Higher Education of Virginia (SCHEV) has been contacted regarding this issue, particularly concerning the inconsistent administrative processes. SCHEV’s reply was to the effect that Virginia public colleges are required to follow Section 23-7.4 of the Virginia Code on student domicile and individual colleges may determine what documents students must provide.
GMU’s Office of Admissions and its Office of Diversity, Compliance, and Ethics were questioned and immediately responded that this would be corrected for current applicants as well as for future applicants. However, last spring Christopher Newport University stated that their process (i.e. requiring parents’ documents) follows the Virginia Code and would not require any documents other than parental immigration documents for an applicant to qualify for in-state tuition. Old Dominion University has listed students who have immigrant parents as being “international dependent students” and will not offer in-state tuition without certain immigration documents in spite of the fact that the student applicant is a U.S. citizen and long-term Virginia resident.
The General Assembly or SCHEV must re-evaluate the requirements for in-state tuition language found in Section 23-7.4 of the Virginia Code and provide clear guidance that applicants are not required to provide parental immigration documents in order to qualify for in-state tuition. As GMU’s Office of Admissions acknowledged, there are other forms of legal proof a student can use to prove Virginia domicile. All Virginia public colleges should offer all the options in the law to applicants. A student should not be denied their legal right to in-state tuition as a Virginia resident.
Three states (South Carolina, Florida, New Jersey) and the District of Columbia were sued for denying in-state tuition to state resident students based on their parents’ immigration status. In every case a court or state commission ruled that such policies are unconstitutional. Virginia should not wait to be sued, but should lead by example and end this confusion that limits a student’s higher education opportunities. The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Southern Poverty Law Center stand ready to use legal action no if other remedy is offered by SCHEV or the General Assembly. Let’s do the right thing, Virginia!
Delegate Kory represents the 38th District in the Virginia House of Delegates. She may be emailed at [email protected]