Eight years after California's Legislature adopted a tuition break to help undocumented immigrants afford college, these students account for 1 percent or less of all students in the state's three higher education systems.
The data come as both Republican candidates for governor are calling for the practice to end, saying the cash-strapped state can't afford to let illegal immigrants attend state-supported colleges at resident rate.
he most recent data from the University of California, California State University and the California Community Colleges system show:
• At UC's 10-campus system, undocumented students were no more than three-tenths of a percent of 220,000 students in 2007-2008.
• More than 68 percent of the 1,941 UC students who received the waiver of out-of-state tuition rates were actually U.S. citizens or "documented" immigrants who qualified under the terms of Assembly Bill 540. U.S. citizens and documented students consistently have been the greatest number of UC's AB 540 students, as they are called, since waivers began in 2002.
• In 2007-08, AB 540 students at UC received an estimated $26 million "value" with their tuition waivers. That added up to five-tenths of a percent of UC's "core" state-funded budget of $5.4 billion, said spokesman Ricardo Vasquez.
• At CSU's 23 campuses, 3,633 students are receiving AB 540 waivers in the current school year – less than 1 percent of all 440,000 students. The numbers have increased since the law passed in 2001, when CSU officials told the Legislature they expected about 500 students to take advantage of the waivers.
• In the community college system in the 2008-09 school year, 34,016 students were granted AB 540 waivers – 1 percent of all 2.89 million students.
• CSU and community college records do not identify the status of AB 540 students, but administrators believe the undocumented make up a larger percentage there than at UC.
With support from some Republicans, lawmakers approved AB 540 in 2001.
The California Chamber of Commerce called AB 540 good for the state's economy and work force quality. Supporters also said tens of thousands of illegal students didn't come here by choice, were graduating annually from high school, but remained in limbo.
The law allows students who attended California high school for at least three years and graduated here, including citizens, to pay in-state tuition even if they are not legal residents of the state.
Undocumented AB 540 students in California are barred from all state, school or federal grants or loans. They also must sign an affidavit promising to seek legal status as soon as they can, even though most of the students have no avenue to obtain that status.
Issue hits GOP primary
Undocumented AB 540 students are figuring large in political rhetoric as the June 8 primary race to select a Republican nominee for governor heats up.
A new Field Poll found that 58 percent of Republicans consider illegal immigration to be among the most important issues in the governor's race, compared with 37 percent of total voters who believe that.
GOP gubernatorial rivals Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner each single out illegal immigrant students as a financial burden and say they want to kill AB 540.
"Ban the Admission of Undocumented Students to UC, CSU and California Community Colleges," Whitman says in her policy agenda pamphlet.
"At a time when we're letting police officers, firefighters and teachers go, then everything has to be on the table," added Whitman spokesman Hector Barajas.
Read the full story at the Sacramento Bee.