RALEIGH, N.C. | North Carolina's community colleges would once again be allowed to enroll illegal immigrants next spring under a proposal expected to come before the State Board of Community Colleges on Friday. The change won unanimous approval Thursday in the board's policy committee. Under the new rules, undocumented immigrants could enroll at any of the system's 58 campuses if they have graduated from a U.S. high school. They would have to pay the out-of-state tuition rate, which is nearly five times the in-state rate or $30,000 for a two-year degree, said Stuart Fountain, the policy committee's chairman. They also couldn't qualify for financial aid or supplant students who are legally in the U.S. on crowded campuses. "That is an enormous hurdle," Fountain told reporters after the vote by six committee members. "I am very pleased with the fact that we have maintained the open-door policy that has been the hallmark of the community college system ... If they want that education that badly and are determined to succeed, then we think we need to provide that pathway." The system has changed its illegal immigrant admission policy four times since 2000. In 2007, the system replaced a policy giving campuses the option to enroll undocumented immigrants with a requirement that they do so. The current no-admission policy was approved in May 2008 as Attorney General Roy Cooper warned of a potential legal challenge. A consultant's report released in April said the state would make more than it spends on each enrolled illegal immigrant if it charged them the out-of-state rate. About 50 opponents to the proposal gathered outside system headquarters as the committee met, holding flags and signs urging motorists to honk their horns if they agreed with them. One protester said it's wrong to expand enrollment to people forbidden to work lawfully in the country when North Carolina's unemployment rate is near 11 percent. "When you educate these illegals, they'll start tapping into more jobs where you need more education to get them," said Mike Moseley, 33, of Benson, a heavy construction equipment operator who's been laid off twice in the past 13 months. North Carolina's community college system, the third-largest in the country, has about 800,000 students. The system had 111 illegal immigrants enrolled during the 2007-08 school year under exceptions for students studying in GED programs or for refugees and other federally qualified immigrants. Guidelines almost identical to the policy considered Thursday already are in place at University of North Carolina campuses, although they also require applicants to meet more academic standards to be admitted. About 30 illegal immigrants were enrolled in fall 2008. Gov. Beverly Perdue is opposed to the community college enrollment change, telling reporters this week it's hard to understand why the state should educate people "when they can't work legally in the state after they're educated." Her predecessor, fellow Democrat Mike Easley, supported the enrollment expansion. Senate Minority Leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, believes Perdue should be more forceful and lobby board members to reject the change Friday, Berger spokesman Brent Woodcox said. Perdue is confident the board members, four of whom were appointed by her, know her opinion, press secretary Chrissy Pearson said: "While she respects the individual members, she feels this [proposal] is the wrong decision."
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