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Thursday, May 3, 2012

Capitol Watch: In-state students may have to swear NH residency before getting financial aid

CONCORD – Home-grown students attending New Hampshire public colleges must sign an affidavit affirming they are residents in order to receive in-state tuition, according to legislation that cleared the state Senate on Wednesday.

Sen. Jim Forsythe, R-Strafford, said it’s appropriate to ensure throughout the two- and four-year college system that all students paying less in tuition are resident-eligible.

“This is not a fight over rights; it is a subsidy by NH taxpayers for in-state residents,” Forsythe said.

But Sen. Molly Kelly, D-Keene, said there was rampant confusion over the meaning of legal residency versus U.S. citizenship and this bill (HB 1383) sends an unwelcoming message.

“I truly question the intent of this legislation and have serious concerns about the outcome should this bill become law,” Kelly said.

“This issue of immigration belongs in a federal venue and not here before us as state legislators.”

The state Senate voted along partisan lines, 19-5, to pass the amended bill back over to the House of Representatives for its review.

All five Democrats opposed it; all 19 Republicans in the Senate were for it.

The House had adopted a more expansive bill that put the burden on university administrators to make certain anyone getting in-state tuition was a New Hampshire resident.

USNH administrators told a state Senate committee that a parent or student affidavit would relieve them of the cost and time to verify all applications.

Advocates for this bill point to the Immigration Reform and Responsibility Act of 1996 that bans states from giving in-state tuition after high school to non-resident aliens unless that state acts affirmatively to make them eligible.

There are 12 states that expressly permit in-state tuition for non-resident immigrants, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

This is after lawmakers in the state of Oklahoma repealed its law. The only Northeast state where it’s legal for undocumented immigrants to get in-state tuition is New York.

Legislative budget experts estimate the House-passed bill would cost NH taxpayers $17,000 in the first year and about $5,800 every year after for public college executives to review immigration status of in-state applicants.

The cost would be higher but this review is already done by federal authorities for the 85 percent of in-state students who receive some form of federal financial aid.

Judy Elliott with the New Hampshire Alliance for Immigrants and Refugees said gaining in-state tuition status can save a family $14,000 a year, but this new mandate could scare some parents from pursuing it.

Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, said this would create a barrier for some families to be able to afford to send their children to local colleges.

“We should do all we can in this country to make education accessible and affordable,” D’Allesandro said.

“What is going on here? We are in the process this session of trying to limit peoples’ voting rights. Now we are trying to limit our enrollment in the state colleges.”

Kevin Landrigan can reached at 321-7040 or; also check out Kevin Landrigan (@KLandrigan) on Twitter and don’t forget The Telegraph’s new, interactive live feed at