By Daniel Lovering
CAMBRIDGE, Mass (Reuters) - Illegal immigrants in Rhode Island now qualify for lower in-state tuition following a unanimous vote by a higher education board, an official said on Tuesday.
The Board of Governors for Higher Education approved the measure at a meeting late Monday in the wake of inaction by the state legislature, which introduced similar bills over six years never took action.
Governor Lincoln Chaffee had urged the board to adopt the measure, said board spokesman Michael Trainor.
Some 400 people crowded into the meeting at Community College of Rhode Island, where all 11 members in attendance from the 13-member board voted for the measure.
Rhode Island joins 12 states nationwide that have introduced laws allowing undocumented immigrant students to pay in-state tuition fees under certain conditions, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. But Rhode Island is the only one that has introduced such a measure without going through its state legislature.
To be eligible under the new policy, students who immigrated illegally must have completed at least three years of high school in Rhode Island, graduated from a high school or received a GED in the state, and signed an affidavit saying they will pursue citizenship as soon as possible, Trainor said.
A group that opposes the measure, Rhode Islanders for Immigration Law Enforcement, said on its website that illegal immigration caused a "tremendous financial drain" on the state. It did not immediately respond to a phone message seeking comment.
Tuition for Rhode Island residents is significantly lower than for out-of-state students at its university and community colleges.
For example, at the University of Rhode Island, out-of-state tuition is $27,262, while in-state tuition is just $10,556; at Rhode Island College, it's $16,878 out-of-state and $6,986 in-state; and at Community College of Rhode Island, it's $9,792 out-of-state and $3,652 in-state.
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Jerry Norton)