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Students with flagged Social Security numbers probably not illegal
June, 02nd 2008

Most of the unverified Social Security numbers of college students found by the state Department of Higher Education probably belong to people who are in Arkansas legally, Gov. Mike Beebe said Friday.

The department, following an edict from the governor to make sure illegal aliens are not paying in-state tuition to attend state colleges or universities, has checked the Social Security numbers of about 120,000 students enrolled for the spring semester.

Officials have been unable to verify about 1,500 so far and the schools are being notified, state Higher Education Director Jim Purcell said Friday.

Beebe said higher education officials told him most of the unverified Social Security numbers likely were caused by mistakes rather than by illegal immigrants trying to get in-state tuition.

"They were quick to point out the bulk of those were probably for reasons other than illegal status in the country," he said.

All of the state's public higher education institutions are participating in the checks, Purcell said.

"We told (all colleges and universities that all students) had to have a Social Security card or a visa," he said.

At Beebe's direction, Purcell sent letters this month directing higher education institution officials to add questions of residency and U.S. citizenship on admissions forms, and to require a Social Security number of student visa number.

The governor asked Purcell to send the letter, telling schools that non-compliance could mean loss of state funding.

Beebe ordered the check after learning that the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville and the University of Central Arkansas in Conway had been offering students in-state tuition if they had official transcripts from a state high school.

Purcell said those two universities are now requiring Social Security numbers.

"This really shouldn't be a burden to any college or university," he said, adding that the numbers will be checked again in July during the summer semesters.

Beebe said Friday he was pleased the Social Security numbers are being checked, which he said would help should any federal investigation be launched into states offering in-state tuition to illegal immigrants.

"I assume that those two institutions are not going to have any problem with the process," Beebe said about UA and UCA. "Apparently, from initial reports, most of the other institutions were already requiring people to fill out their Social Security number. I think the issue was, in those two institutions they had it on the form but they weren't requiring them to actually fill it out.

"So if somebody didn't fill it out, nobody checked on it. I think that's the only change in the system, from what I've heard."

Former state Rep. Joyce Elliott, recently elected to the state Senate, has said she is considering reviving a bill she filed in 2005 to authorize state higher education institutions to offer in-state tuition to children of illegal immigrants when she returns to the Legislature next year.

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