Spellings addressed questions regarding higher education policy during her visit to campus this week and was asked about her stance on undocumented students, who receive in-state tuition in her native Texas and 17 other states.
“I come from a state that that’s been a long standing policy of the state,” she said. “Obviously the board of governors and the legislature need to weigh in on this, but I’ve seen it be successful in Texas — in a state with many, many miles of borders.”
Spellings said she would need more of the facts before she could speak in favor of the issue.
According to the most recent data from the Pew Research Center, North Carolina had the eighth highest population of undocumented immigrants in 2012 at 350,000.
Eric Johnson, a spokesperson for UNC’s financial aid office, said if in-state tuition for undocumented students were to become a reality, it would change how his office categorizes a student’s residential status.
“They’re effectively international students under current state policy, so from our standpoint, it’s just a matter of we would treat them like any other in-state student,” he said.
But he said the decision lies with the Board of Governors and the N.C. legislature.
Board member Marty Kotis said one issue with granting undocumented students in-state tuition lies in the way the state constitution defines a resident.
“Forgetting the undocumented versus documented approach, my personal concern is that we follow the constitution of the state and provide benefits to the in-state residents,” he said.
But he said those wanting to support undocumented students could do so through other means, like private funding.
Johnson said UNC-Chapel Hill does not have any formal scholarship or aid program for undocumented students.
“We’ve been able occasionally to identify sort of unrestricted sources of private funding and provide limited scholarships to help a small number of these students ...,” he said. “And so that’s not a systemic solution to the problem.”
Kristen Gardner, a UNC sophomore and member of the Carolina Hispanic Association, is involved in One State One Rate — a campaign advocating for in-state tuition for undocumented students.
She said while it’s not yet clear where Spellings lies on the issue, she is hopeful.
“As a supporter of this particular issue, knowing she is going to be in office and that there’s nothing that we can really do about her being in office, I think it’s a really good opportunity for us to try and ally with her and work with her,” she said.