ATHENS, Ga. - As college students return to campus in Georgia, a new state policy has closed the doors of the five most competitive state schools to illegal immigrants, but a group of professors has found a way to offer those students a taste of what they've been denied.
The five University of Georgia professors have started a program they're calling Freedom University. They're offering to teach a rigorous seminar course once a week meant to mirror courses taught at the most competitive schools and aimed at students who have graduated from high school but can't go to one of those top schools because of the new policy or because of cuts to state scholarship programs.
"This is not a substitute for letting these students into UGA, Georgia State or the other schools," said Pam Voekel, a history professor at UGA and one of the program's initiators. "It is designed for people who, right now, don't have another option."
The policy, adopted last fall by the university system's Board of Regents, bars any state college or university that has rejected academically qualified applicants in the previous two years from admitting illegal immigrants. That includes five Georgia colleges and universities: the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, Georgia State University, Georgia Health Sciences University and Georgia College & State University.
Illegal immigrants may still be admitted to any other state college or university, provided that they pay out-of-state tuition.
The new rule came in response to public concerns that Georgia state colleges and universities were being overrun by illegal immigrants, that taxpayers were subsidizing their education and legal residents were being displaced.
A study conducted by the university system's Board of Regents last year found that less than 1 percent of the state's public college students were illegal immigrants, and that students who pay out-of-state tuition more than pay for their education.
"What we're hoping is that people in decision-making positions will reconsider the policy," said Reinaldo Roman, another of the organizing professors. "It goes counter to our aims. We have invested enormous resources in these young people. It makes sense to give them a chance at an education."
For now the course will simply serve to expose the students to a college environment and challenge them intellectually.
It will not likely count for credit should the students be accepted at another school, but the professors said they're seeking accreditation so credits would be transferable at some point in the future.
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