ATLANTA — The Board of Regents voted unanimously Wednesday to instruct the presidents of the state's public colleges to not grant any waivers to illegal aliens and nearly unanimously to review all applications for fall admission.
The motions back up a May directive by the University System of Georgia Chancellor Erroll Davis.
The regents acknowledged they were responding to public reaction. News in March of an illegal alien at Kennesaw State University getting in-student tuition discounts stirred passions already inflamed by Arizona's law empowering police to arrest anyone without proof of citizenship. Plus, candidates latching onto a volatile issue have fanned the controversy.
"If we don't do something, the public will think, just like every bureaucratic agency, that we're going to study it to death," said Regent Ken Bernard, author of the motions.
Before the vote, Regent Larry Walker, a former long-time member of the legislature and State Transportation Board, drew on his political instincts to offer his colleagues a warning.
"If we pass this thing, it's going to be controversial," he said. "If we don't pass it, it's going to be really controversial."
Only Regent Felton Jenkins voted against the motion requiring a review of the fall applications because he wanted to let a committee the board appointed Wednesday to have time to act.
That committee, which includes five regents and five college presidents, is to report by October on ways to strengthen procedures to catch illegal aliens from getting in-state tuition. Proposals it will consider include verification through a federal database or requiring every applicant bring proof of citizenship. It will also consider whether to deny admission outright to illegal aliens and the appropriate discipline for anyone found lying about citizenship on an application.
One of Bernard's motions targets a rule that allows each college president to waive admissions requirements or set lower tuition for up to 2 percent of applicants each year. Before Davis arrived, there was an informal understanding that a waiver for aliens was permissible, but he sent instructions in 2006 to clarify that the regents' policy and the law prohibit it, according to the regents' legal counsel Burns Newsome.
The bigger problem, Davis said, is how to affordably verify that applicants are telling the truth, including students who are legal residents of other states or whose parents have moved out of Georgia, ending the qualification for in-state discounts.
"We are comfortable that our policies are within the law," Davis said. "We have significant problems with verification."
He told reporters during last month's meeting that he figured it would cost $25 per student to verify their citizenship with the federal database, or roughly the cost of 20 professors. Opponents of admitting illegal aliens said the figure is closer to 50 cents.
Bernard told his colleagues that verification is cheaper than granting taxpayer-subsidized tuition to people who don't deserve it.
A 2007 analysis by the Georgia Department of Audits and Reports found that nearly one-third of the students in its sample at the time should not have been granted in-state tuition, though it didn't mention whether they were illegal aliens or residents of other states. It estimated the total lost tuition at $2 million per semester then.
Both state and federal law prohibits illegal aliens from getting any government benefits. The University System lawyers interpret "benefits" to mean in-state tuition or scholarships like the HOPE. Only South Carolina has concluded that also means they can't be admitted at all.
Sitting in the audience during the meeting was D.A. King, head of the Dustin Inman Society, a Marietta group that lobbies for greater enforcement of prohibitions against illegal aliens. King has filed criminal complaints with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and federal agencies alleging the University System is guilty of breaking state and federal law by admitting illegal aliens. However, he didn't speak during the meeting.