University Head Leaves Doors Open to Undocumented Students in Arkansas

By Mary Ann Zehr — October 28, 2008 1 min read
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The chancellor of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville is leaving the doors of his university open to undocumented students, according to an Oct. 24 article in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette. He’s doing this even though the head of the state’s department of higher education wrote in a letter back in May, which the communications director for the department just sent to me, that the state will not pay for the education of such students.

In his May letter, Jim Purcell, the director of higher education for Arkansas, told university presidents and chancellors that they had to require a valid Social Security number or student visa number for students, and if any students lacked such information, they wouldn’t be counted when state funding was given out. The letter also said that if a university offered in-state tuition rates for students who didn’t provide a Social Security number or student visa number, it had to do so for any U.S. citizen, regardless of what state they reside in.

G. David Gearhart, the University of Arkansas chancellor, says in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette article that the university identified about 25 students attending classes that might be undocumented. Officials at the school worked to find private donations to make up the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition.

Dale Ellis, the communications director for the Arkansas department of higher education, told me over the telephone today that the department doesn’t have any problem with an institution using private funds to educate undocumented students. “The only thing that we’re saying is you can’t use public money to offer the in-state tuition rates without offering it to every one,” because he said the department doesn’t want institutions to be exposed to a possible violation of federal law.

In May, North Carolina education officials started a new trend in this country of barring undocumented students from universities by declaring they couldn’t attend the state’s community colleges. Since then, Alabama education officials and South Carolina lawmakers have enacted policies to deny undocumented students access to all of the public universities in their states.

Mr. Ellis clarified that the University of Arkansas is on its own as far as paying to educate any of those 25 students who apparently haven’t provided student visa numbers or Social Security numbers.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.