Thursday, September 22, 2005


"Community" College

Every so often I’m reminded that the term ‘community college’ is less transparent than I’d like to believe.

There’s an ongoing debate here about how to handle ‘undocumented’ students. It flared up again this week.

A little background: our funding comes from the county, the state, and the students. (There are limited subventions from some federal programs, like Perkins and Title IV, and a few from private philanthropists, but the basic point stands.) What that means is that tuition covers less than the full cost of the education the students receive, even if they pay full tuition out-of-pocket. Taxpayers make up the difference.

Like many public institutions, we charge lower tuition for residents of the areas we rely on for tax support. The theory is that residents have already paid to support the college, so they should get something back, like discounted tuition. People coming in from other jurisdictions are charged higher rates, to make up for the taxes they didn’t pay in our county.

The system works tolerably well with typical students from neighboring counties. A student who decides that my cc is stronger than the one in his county has the option of attending mine, as long as he’s willing to pay a higher tuition rate for the privilege. Many do, which I take as a sort of institutional compliment. (The premium is waived if the student’s home cc lacks the major he’s taking with us.)

The system breaks down, though, with students who are in this country illegally.

Many of those students were brought here as young children by their parents; they’ve grown up here, and gone to high school here. Since they aren’t legally county (or even state) residents, we have the option of charging them our out-of-state tuition rate (which is even higher than the out-of-county rate), or even of excluding them altogether. Or, we could simply look at their current domicile, and decide that they’re in-county.

The K-12 system doesn’t look at immigration status, so these kids can (and do) go all the way through public high school without issue. Come graduation, they may find themselves stranded, depending on how the local cc interprets the rules.

In the past few days, I’ve heard multiple permutations of this issue. Honestly, I see merit in every one of them, which makes me damn glad that I’m not in charge of this policy.

The argument for letting local undocumented students in as local students is simple: if they got local high school diplomas, they’re local. If they came here as young children, it hardly seems fair to punish them for what was, in reality, their parents’ decision. As a society, we don’t believe in a caste system, so we shouldn’t confine entire populations to working at Burger King for their entire lives. It’s a waste of talent, it’s an immoral visitation of the sins of the father upon the son (in these cases, that’s literally true), and it’s not as if our federal immigration system makes sense anyway. Let us educate, which is both our mission and our human inclination; other branches can worry about the niceties of green cards and the rest.

The argument for letting them in but charging extra is also simple: they shouldn’t be confined to a low-wage ghetto forever, but they also shouldn’t be rewarded for breaking the law. If a kid who was born in the neighboring county, went to public school there, graduated, and comes to us gets charged extra, then surely the illegal immigrant shouldn’t get a discount! It’s bizarre to suggest that the kid from Ecuador has a higher claim on local tax dollars than the kid from the next town over.

The argument for banning them altogether is also, alas, simple: we shouldn’t reward breaking the law. More coldly, we shouldn’t tax the folks who play by the rules to enhance the earning potential of folks who don’t. If they want to get naturalized, then fine; if they can’t be bothered, for whatever reason, then let them live with the consequences of that decision. Depending on how one reads the federal statutes, it’s possible to argue that this is a mandatory position.

Most of the people on campus I’ve discussed the issue with have clear, firm opinions. They seem to believe that the logic of their view is self-evident. While I’ve been accused of that in other contexts (smirk), I have to admit lacking confidence on this one. On humanitarian and educational grounds, I’d like to side with the open-door policy. But it’s an awfully hard policy to defend to the angry parent of a kid from the next town over who has to pay double tuition, or the angry politician looking for explanations for runaway budgets. As a community college, we’re bound, in meaningful ways, to the community. We just need a defensible definition of who that community includes.

It would be easy to defer the dilemma by kicking it upstairs – blame the federal government for arcane, inconsistent, and downright weird immigration rules, call for reform there, and wash one’s own hands of it. There’s certainly some truth to that position, but it doesn’t help when a kid shows up in the Admissions office.

My previous school was a proprietary, so the issue of differential tuition didn’t come up; since the local taxpayers were no more burdened than any other, they got no special break. As a cc, we don’t have the option of flat pricing.

I think this is a painful variation on one of the eternal dilemmas of the left – how to reconcile universalist ethics with local allegiances. When ‘community’ is in both your name and your mission, this conflict can’t be brushed away lightly.

How does your school handle this? Are there angles/arguments that could help clarify the issue? I’m honestly conflicted, and the issue is getting harder to ignore.

I attend a large major University, although our tag line boasts diversity i rarely see it actualize around my campus. What's more, my university takes the most unforgiving and swift action in regards to illegal citizens- they simply can't attend. The sort of band-aid they use to seem less cruel is that if the student would like to return to their native country and come to our university as a student abroad, they may do so, but only proven legal citizens either in our out of state, may attend my institution. Perhaps that is why we fall short of our minority brackett.
In North Carolina, the CCs have been told that we are not allowed to accept undocumented citizens, regardless of their HS grad status. To me, this smacks of racism. Most of these kids came to the US with adults and probably didn't have a lot of voice in the family decision (giving children equal voting rights must be an American invention). More and more are going completely through our system (K-12) and are assimilating quite well.

BTW, as a point of argument, most undocumented adults in my neck of the woods DO pay tax...payroll and sales tax specifically.
Yeah, I was wondering about that too - if a kid has gone through high school locally, presumably their family has paid local taxes the same as any other family living in the area?

If you assume that, then whether or not to charge them more becomes easy - base it on whether they live in this county or the next. Whether or not to accept them at all still remains. Personally I'd accept them and figure their immigration status was none of my business unless the government specifically forbad their acceptance.

It's wonderful that the US ignores immigration status for K12 education. I love that.

Digressing a little: could these young people be naturalised based on having lived in the US for X years? Or does their initial illegal status, even as children, bar them from that?
In Canada, the issue of in county, out of county, in province or out of province, ccomes up only rarely. For the most part, our universities and colleges are public institutions and the tuition is a flat rate and all students pay the same flat rate unless they are coming as foreign students from outside Canada. So, in Ontario, students pay roughly $6000 a year to attend any of the universities. Foreign students pay about $18,000 (or the "full cost"). If a Canadian student has come from BC to Ontario, or vice versa, it matters little because fedral transfer payments create some degree of equity for funding to schools. *SOME* degree.

However, it did become an issue in the last few years for the province of Quebec. Quebec's mission to provide the hgihest level of education for its citizens -- as a kind of nationalist agenda -- meant that the prvincial transfer payments to universities were very high, in addition to federal ones. All the universities in Quebec had, therefore, very low tuition. When I did my grad work there, I paid $2000 per year at the beginning, whereas I'd been paying $6000 in Ontario. However, not having met the residency requirements meant that I was inelligible for the provincial scholarships for graduate study in la belle provence. Toward the end of my graduate study, the province of Quebec, again for nationalist reasons, determiend that out-of-province students would have to pay out-of-province fees and so their tuition was equalised with the rest of the provoncial rates.
I think that because Canada does not have the same immigration issues as the US that the "problem" of how to deal with illegal status has never reached a critical mass. We tend to take our illegal arrivals and put them through as refugees, who once they acquire that status become permanent residents, and then they can apply to be citizens. If however, they fail to demonstrate refugee needs, we deport them. High profile cases of deportation are in our news fairly frequently, but my impression is that most people who claim refugee status are granted it.
It's no way to live, however. One is FORCED by law to take welfare for 2 years -- this to "protect jobs of Canadians" -- but it only makes the unaware feel justified for hating refugees.

Our pubic schools, by the way, have begun charging families who are in Canada on work contracts -- as opposed ot seekign residency and citizenship -- full tuition fees of about 6-8k per year per child.
Just a short comment about Colleges in Canada. Our colleges are not quite as open as you would think. On occasion it depends on individual program policy as much as the institution's.

Some programs within an institution will limit the admissions to students on their home province due to the volume of applicants that the program receives.

I am an teacher at a college in Quebec and it is an odd arrangement for fees. The fees are minimal for residence of that province, while students from out of province pay full tuition. This is a great solution for their students and does give the students a good head start. I'm not really a card carrying socialist, but this is a wonderful thing for those folks. I don't see a problem with students from out of province having to pay full tuition (not more than as far as I know) since they would have to in their home province any way.

As far as the problem with undocumented citizens (a great term by the way). I believe that if you are paying taxes and that is what the discount is based on then what's the issue. If it is based on citizen status, then either they become legal citizens or they can not attend the cc. If you would deny yourself an education because you refuse to become a legal citizen then you need to question why your still living there once you reach the age of attending college. All people deserve an education and a chance to succeed. If the parents left their home to come to another country I would it would be to succeed. They need to do what ever is necessary to allow their children to do the same. However, it can't be entirely the institutions responsibility to deal with this issue.

To reiterate though, if it's just an issue of paying taxes and the families are paying taxes then the issue should be moot. If you pay taxes in that county you should have the same tuition as everyone else in that county, wether your "legal" or not.
I can't agree with artguide's relaxed attitude about obeying the immigration laws. If you don't like the law, get it changed, but this isn't an area where an agency of the state (the cc) can engage in an act of civil disobedience. Status matters. Illegals can't be treated as legals just because it seems like social justice, notwithstanding the potential waste of talent. There's already way too much disrepecting of immigration law.
I guess for me, it comes down to whether I'd like to have a bunch of uneducated young immigrant men around town hustling for money or a bunch of employable young immigrant men around town hustling for money. Is it fair? Nah, you've been given the shaft by poor Federal law. So accept that you got nailed and make the best of a bad situation. That's my opinion, at least.
I never realised an II could go all the way to community college. What's afterward then? Are you giving them AA degrees, so they could work under the table at Walmart?

It puzzles me to see IIs could attend K-12 public schools as well. Like a lot of people have said, many of them came here as a kid, with no power over the decision. By the time when they're in CC, they should be old enough to realise that they aren't going anywhere. Call me naive, their priority should be seeking ways to initiate the naturalization process, than a higher education.
If their parents pay local taxes (either directly as property owners or indirectly as renters) then one could argue that they are 'local' in the fiscal sense of contributing to the college, and thus are entitled to local rates.
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