I hear that University of Arkansas and University of Central Arkansas officials are scrambling in response to an AP story that notes, as we've reported before, that several campuses extend in-state tuition and campus scholarships to Arkansas high school graduates who might not be authorized immigrants.
The new wrinkle was Gov. Mike Beebe's spokesman citation of a 2005 attorney general's opinion by Beebe. It said it might be a federal constitutional violation (equal protection) to give in-state tuition to unauthorized immigrants while out-of-state citizens did not qualify.
Well, yes, maybe.
But, finally, no.
The law does not require colleges to determine citizenship status of entering students. It does not require colleges to determine citizenship status for certain college-provided scholarships. It does require Social Security numbers for students seeking FEDERAL financial aid and the universities provide that information when they apply. Colleges have broken no law by admitting students who are qualified for admission. And what better way to determine in-state residence for purposes of tuition than an Arkansas high school diploma and an Arkansas address, generally of long standing.
The question of legal status is not a matter of declaratory judgment. And you can't go around questioning a student's status simply because her name is Lopez and looks Hispanic. If a college does not know a student is unauthorized, that student is legal until demonstrated otherwise. Giving admission and equal status to Arkansas high school graduates seems like a sensible, compassionate and societally helpful idea in the meanwhile.
There's an alternative, but it's nonsensical. Do we really want to require a citizenship test for all of the tens of thousands of students who enroll in state colleges every year, particularly given what we know about the imperfection and delays inherent in that system? All in the name of punishing a few demonstrably deserving Arkansans? That's what they are, whatever their status. Send them to school, I say.
The issue has arisen because of a proposed constitutional amendment that would require a background check for all government benefit programs. This would, as Gov. Frank White once said, open up a box full of Pandoras.