Lawmaker calls for investigation of Montgomery College tuition policy

By Daniel de Vise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 27, 2010; 10:32 PM

A Republican Maryland lawmaker urged a criminal investigation of Montgomery College on Wednesday, challenging the school's longtime practice of giving resident tuition discounts to illegal immigrants.

Montgomery College allows illegal immigrants to pay the lower tuition afforded to county residents, as long as they have graduated from the county's public schools. It's an unusual stance: Some public colleges in the region don't admit illegal immigrants as students, and those that do typically charge them higher non-resident rates because they cannot prove legal residency.

Del. Patrick L. McDonough (R-Baltimore County) called Wednesday for state and federal prosecutors to investigate the community college's tuition policy, which he said he believes violates federal law.

"You have public officials in collusion, practicing an illegal act that costs taxpayers money," McDonough said in an interview Tuesday. He aired his concerns publicly at a news conference Wednesday.

With an election looming, candidates are accentuating their philosophical differences on illegal immigration. Gubernatorial candidate Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) invoked the issue Tuesday in a campaign appearance, saying it was becoming "more of a hot button" between him and Gov. Martin O'Malley (D).

Montgomery College officials said they believe their longtime fee policy follows the law. The rule provides in-county tuition to anyone who has graduated from a public Montgomery County high school within the past three years. Tuition totals $321 for a three-credit course for a county resident, compared with $657 for Marylanders from outside the county and $897 for everyone else.

McDonough "obviously does not understand the admission policies and student enrollment of Montgomery College," Elizabeth Homan, a spokeswoman for the college, said in a statement.

McDonough said an audit showed Montgomery College delivered 11,000 credit hours of instruction to students without full documentation.

How to treat illegal immigrants in the region's public colleges is an unsettled question.

Public universities in Maryland and Virginia are allowed by state policy to admit illegal immigrants, but they are not required to do so. Some institutions, including the University of Virginia, have gone to court to protect their rights to deny admission to illegal immigrants.

Maryland lawmakers have tried and failed repeatedly to secure resident tuition benefits for illegal immigrants. Virginia legislators have tried and failed to bar illegal immigrants from public higher education.

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