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Bill seeks in-state tuition for non-citizen students at Georgia colleges
ATLANTA – Undocumented students could pay in-state college tuition in Georgia under a bill Democratic lawmakers filed this week that aims to overturn longstanding state law prohibiting those students from paying lower school costs.
Sponsored by House Minority Leader Bob Trammell, D-Luthersville, House Bill 896 would let non-citizen students pay in-state tuition if they attended high school in Georgia for three or more years, earned a diploma and are applying for legal immigration status.
Trammell said the measure would help Georgia retain more students who would pick up jobs in the state after graduating.
“It’s cost-prohibitive for students to advance their education in Georgia,” Trammell said. “As a consequence, we’re losing talent in Georgia to other states.”
Students who are not U.S. citizens have been largely barred from qualifying for in-state tuition in Georgia since 2008 — though state law does give universities leeway to allow in-state tuition for green-card holders, refugees and asylum seekers. In-state tuition tends to be much lower than out-of-state rates.
A spokesman for the University System of Georgia, which oversees 26 colleges in the state, declined to comment Thursday on pending legislation.
Christian Olvera, a student at Dalton State College whose parents migrated from Mexico, has had to pause his studies for long stretches of time to work so that he could pay his out-of-state tuition. Olvera pays about $6,000 per semester currently, three times more than the roughly $2,000 he said he would for in-state tuition.
He said allowing in-state tuition would keep droves of students in Georgia who otherwise cannot pay for college.
“It’s a dream crusher, really,” Olvera said. “In order to keep Georgia the No.-1 business state, we’d love to keep those students coming out of high schools with good GPAs and bright futures.”
The bill would cover so-called “Dreamers” like Olvera who are protected from deportation under the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy but are not legal permanent residents. They arrived in the U.S. as children with their parents and possess temporary work authorization permits.
There were about 21,000 Dreamers in Georgia as of June 2019, according to the nonprofit Migration Policy Institute.
Georgia is one of five states that either deny in-state tuition for undocumented students or prohibit them from enrolling in college entirely, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Trammell’s bill would not tamper with a policy held by three prominent schools – the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech and Georgia College and State University – that bars DACA students from admission.
The bill was filed Wednesday around the same time state Rep. Philip Singleton, R-Sharpsburg, introduced legislation that would toughen state law requiring city and county law enforcement agencies to cooperate with federal immigration authorities.