As campaign season begins to heat up, the always hot political topic of illegal immigration is getting another surge of attention.
This week California passed a new law that allows undocumented immigrant students to receive state-funded financial aid beginning in 2013.
In Tennessee, the agenda for the annual meeting of admissions officers from the three UT campuses includes a discussion about undocumented students.
"We're meeting later this month. Every year admissions officers get together and deal with issues we encounter with enrollment," said Yancy Freeman, vice chancellor of enrollment services at UT Chattanooga. "It is just one of many discussion topics we put on the agenda because we get a lot of calls from local agencies wanting to know what our stance is on admissions for undocumented students. Those are agencies that are generally working with undocumented students and might be trying to help them gain citizenship. We are not discussing any policy at the meeting. That would all have to come from governing bodies like the board of trustees."
Several years ago, UTC allowed undocumented students to attend the university if they paid out-of-state tuition. That was not the standard practice at other UT system schools like UT-Martin and UT-Knoxville. To avoid confusion, all three schools got on the same page and agreed to refrain from knowingly admitting undocumented students.
All UT system schools currently abide by that agreement, but there is no official written policy regarding undocumented students.
"We have an agreement and we are not aware of there being a single undocumented student on campus or that were knowingly admitted," said Hank Dye with the UT Office of the President. "There are no plans to revisit that stance of not knowingly admitting undocumented students. The group of admissions officers who are discussing the topic are not developing policy or making any policy decisions. They don't have that power."
Today undocumented students still have options at many other state universities and community colleges in Tennessee. Like the former UTC policy, undocumented scholars have to obtain an education at greater cost.
Julia Wood, director of Marketing and Communications at Pellissippi State Community College, said the school allows undocumented students who meet the school's academic standards to enroll and attend PSCC. However, they must pay the much more expensive out-of-state tuition. Undocumented students are also ineligible for financial aid through the school.
The stance taken by Pellissippi State is common among other public universities operated by the Tennessee Board of Regents. Yet, like the University of Tennessee campuses, the Tennessee Board of Regents has no official written policy dictating whether or not their campuses can allow undocumented students.
Charging out-of-state tuition often puts college out-of-reach for undocumented students. Many undocumented students are not in a financial situation where they can afford the higher price of tuition without student loans. Undocumented students are unable to obtain federal student loans because applicants must possess a social security number.
Private institutions are not generally part of the political discussion regarding undocumented students because the schools do not funded by public money. Furthermore, the aforementioned difficulty paying expensive tuition fees makes private schools cost-prohibitive for undocumented students.
Nonetheless, 10News contacted Maryville College out of curiosity to see if the private school has had to address the issue of undocumented students. Karen Eldridge, Director of Communications for Maryville College, told 10News those applications would typically be handled by the department that deals with international students. Eldridge said staff members with that department are unaware of any undocumented students who have ever attended Maryville College. There is no written policy that explicitly prohibits undocumented students from attending Maryville College.