SB100, which was drafted in accordance with the wishes of the Utah Office of Higher Education, exempts the Utah Board of Regents from verifying lawful presence of applicants for Regents and New Century scholarships. This could allow individual’s unlawfully in the United States to benefit from these taxpayer funded scholarships in addition to being eligible for taxpayer subsidized, in-state tuition.
According to a spokesperson for Dave Buhler, Commissioner of Higher Education, it is highly unlikely that anyone illegally in the United States would qualify for these scholarships because they are only available to the highest performing students and “undocumented” students do not apply for them.
This goes against what higher education and university officials normally argue when defending Utah's policy of granting in-state tuition to illegal aliens. In that case, they maintain that many illegal aliens are excellent students who would be denied the opportunity to go to college if they were not allowed to pay taxpayer subsidized, in-state tuition.
The reason for the change, according to Buehler’s spokesperson, is to avoid putting an undue burden on the top performing students who apply for these scholarships by requiring them to provide proof of legal residence. In the past, an applicant failed to get a birth certificate in on time and did not obtain a scholarship so the procedure is being changed to avoid a recurrence of that.
Of course, virtually all students from the highest to the lowest performers are able and willing to fully comply with the much more onerous requirements for proving legal residence when applying for a Utah driver’s license.
Although not found in the bill, higher education officials say that applicants will have to electronically sign an online affidavit stating that they are lawfully in the United States. Once signed, no further verification will be undertaken. Uploading an electronic version of a birth certificate or other document to support the affidavit will not be required.
In an unusual development, the bill, sponsored by Senator Jerry Stevenson, will be heard by the Senate Health and Human Service Committee rather than the Senate Education Committee. The hearing is scheduled for 8 a.m. on Wednesday, February 6, 2012 in room 250 in the state capitol building.