Tuition, Out of State and Beyond
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Thu Feb 21 10:27:45 MST 2002
New York Times
February 18, 2002
Tuition, Out of State and Beyond
By JOYCE PURNICK
JUST about everyone involved says it was a shame for Washington to do it in
the first place, and for New York not to have undone it by now. In the
meantime, Daniel from Mexico and Teresa from Colombia and a few thousand
other striving immigrants are confronting a formidable new hurdle in their
pursuit of a college education. And immigrant-friendly New York looks
punitive at best.
Illegal immigrants at the City University of New York were notified just
three months ago that starting this semester, they would have to pay higher
tuition the rates charged to out-of-state students. Their costs at the
four-year colleges shot up to $3,400 a semester from $1,600. Tuition at the
community colleges went to $1,538 a semester from $1,250.
CUNY administrators say that when they were reviewing their policies after
Sept. 11, they discovered that since 1998, CUNY had been violating a federal
immigration law that prevents students who are illegal immigrants from
getting benefits unavailable to citizens from out of state.
California and Texas passed legislation that circumvents the federal
statute. In New York, the state university has been following the federal
policy since 1998, and CUNY, which estimates that about 3,000 of its 200,000
students have acknowledged their illegal status on their applications,
It had to, said the current general counsel, Frederick P. Schaffer. "People
speculate this is part of an anti-immigrant policy, but it's just law," he
said. "I concluded that not only as a lawyer but as a lawyer for a public
institution, I had an obligation to obey the law."
He and CUNY's chancellor, Matthew Goldstein, say they deplore having to
raise fees and urge Albany to enact legislation that would get around the
federal law. But critics have complained that they did not delay the
effective date of the increases, did not deliberate in public, did not
aggressively draw attention to the plight of their students, did not beg for
"They acted hastily and unilaterally," said Barbara Bowen, president of the
Professional Staff Congress, which represents CUNY's faculty. Ms. Bowen
cited CUNY's traditional mission of educating immigrants, many of them poor,
and said that university administrators should have consulted with a broad
range of experts, faculty members and students before increasing tuition.
Dr. Goldstein, emphasizing that CUNY is trying to help the illegal
immigrants in a number of ways, said: "The action I took had to be taken. If
my general counsel alerted me that we are out of compliance with federal
law, I have to get into compliance, which we did rather decisively."
That they did. Daniel, a Hunter College student who emigrated from Mexico
with his family when he was 15, remembers being stunned by a letter advising
him of the tuition increases just before Thanksgiving.
"I think because of Sept. 11, they want to keep track of everybody, because
one of the terrorists had a student visa," said Daniel, 22. "That's all
right with me. But not everybody is as bad." Daniel, once a full-time
student, is now taking one $900 course in computer technology.
ANOTHER Hunter student, Teresa, fears she will have to drop out. Teresa, a
20-year-old honors student, came from Colombia with her family when she was
14. She and Daniel have little chance of becoming citizens unless they marry
Americans or have relatives who are citizens. Teresa is hoping that the
courts or the State Legislature will reverse the tuition increases.
The federal law prevents illegal immigrants from getting preferential
treatment (lower tuition) that citizens in other states cannot. California
and Texas got around that by making high school graduation the key criterion
for the lower tuition, along with school attendance or residency in those
Bills with similar provisions have been introduced in Albany by Assemblymen
Adriano Espaillat of Manhattan and Peter M. Rivera of the Bronx, both
Democrats. But the bills have drawn little attention and have no sponsor in
the State Senate. Gov. George E. Pataki is still studying the matter, his
advisers say, and the legislative leaders Sheldon Silver in the Assembly,
a Democrat, and Joseph L. Bruno in the Senate, a Republican have not yet
This is New York, city of immigrants. The power players will surely awaken
to this soon. Then again, the Legislature and governor are seeking
re-election this year. There are other priorities. And illegal immigrants do
We declare our right on this earth ... to be a human being, to be respected
as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being in this society,
on this earth, in this day, which we intend to bring into existence by any
means necessary. -Malcolm X
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