I-Team: Illegal immigrants and in-state tuition

Only 59 illegal immigrants have taken advantage of a program that allows them to pay in-state tuition at Rhode Island state colleges and universities.

The controversial program was put in place last year.

The Chafee administration circumvented the legislature in putting the program in place. Rhode Island lawmakers had declined to pass legislation authorizing the in-state tuition program for illegal immigrant students for several years in a row.

According the Rhode Island Office of Higher Education, 59 full and part-time illegal immigrant students attended state colleges and universities for the first semester last year from September 2012 to Jan. 1, 2013.

Of the 59 students, 56 of those attended the Community College of Rhode Island on a full or part-time basis. Two students attended the University of Rhode Island and one student attended Rhode Island College.

"If those 59 had paid the full out-of-state tuition rate, the state would have collected an additional $168,688," said Michael Trainor, a spokesman for the Office of Higher Education.

Chafee and other supporters of the program argue that many of the illegal immigrant students came to this country because their parents brought them here. And they say it's much better to offer illegal immigrant students who qualify for college the opportunity to pay the in-state tuition rate, rather than having them not attend at all.

But Terry Gorman, the head of Rhode Islanders for Immigration Law Enforcement, says he's opposed to the in-state tuition for illegal immigrant students.

"I think we already gave them what they want. We gave them a free K-12 education," he said. "And I think if illegal immigrant students want to go to college and pay in-state rates, then their parents ought to pay the difference."

But the 59 illegal immigrant students, who are receiving the in-state tuition rates, represent less than 1 percent of the 43,000 students who are attending Rhode Island's colleges and universities.