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April 2, 2014

Taskforce to look into OCC international student tuition increase

By Sherri Kolade
C & G Staff Writer

FARMINGTON HILLS — A taskforce to investigate, review and compare international student tuition rates at Oakland Community College was slated to meet the first week of April after recent complaints from students, community and faculty members stirred school officials into action.

The group will conclude its work by June 30 and will make recommendations to the OCC Board of Trustees before finalized out-of-state tuition rates are set for the fall semester.

Last June, the OCC Board of Trustees approved tuition rates that include $76.40 per credit hour for in-district residency students, $139.10 per credit hour for out-of-district students, $195.15 for active out-of-state students and $304 for new out-of-state students — a nearly 73 percent increase from the previous $175.80 per credit hour.

Out-of-state residency includes international students who have been issued an I-20 with a fall 2013 start term at OCC; an I-20 is a document issued by a government-verified, U.S. educational institution validating that a student has been admitted to a full-time study program and that the student has demonstrated sufficient financial resources to stay in the United States.

Oakland County-based attorney Gillian Talwar organized a protest at the board’s March 18 meeting.

During the meeting, Talwar told the board that as a 22-year resident and first-generation immigrant, she is protesting the “massive increase” to the out-of-state tuition rate.

“The out-of-state rate applies principally to international students and other classes of immigrants,” Talwar said.

In a letter sent to the Press, Talwar said she is “truly disappointed” that OCC created a massive tuition hike.

“Apart from the impact on potential immigrant students, the tuition policy adopted will deprive the rest of the student body of opportunities to interact with and learn from fellow students of diverse backgrounds,” Talwar’s letter reads.

In a March 20 letter to the Press, Cathey Maze, interim vice chancellor for academic and student affairs at OCC, she said that while the board appreciates the feedback it has received on OCC’s international tuition rate for new students, there may be a misunderstanding of the residency requirements within the tuition policies at OCC.

“Under no circumstances are residents who pay property tax — or their dependents — within the OCC district assessed out-of-district or out-of-state tuition.” She said this includes immigrants, nonimmigrants and non-U.S. citizens in an academic or language program pursuing a full course of study in the United States.

Maze said that because of the complex nature of the matter and because people have expressed concern, OCC will re-examine its policy through the taskforce the college is assembling.

According to her letter, the taskforce will include members of the community, English as a Second Language faculty, an international student advisor, a counselor, international students and representatives from the college’s Global Education Committee.

“We appreciate those of you who have chosen to speak up and help us reach a solution to this issue. It is only through honest conversation that we can grow and become better partners in our community,” Maze said in the letter.

Talwar, who said she agreed to be on the taskforce, told the Press recently that the international tuition increase was “offensive.”

“I found it offensive because I felt it was saying, ‘We don’t want immigrants here,’” Talwar said.

Orchard Ridge campus ESL Department Chair Michael Khirallah said that as a 20-year faculty member at the college, he works with immigrants, nonimmigrants, visa and nonvisa students alike.

“I’m puzzled as a faculty member why we did that, because these students offer so much to the institution,” he said.

He added that the thinks the board has good intentions and wanted to do the right thing.

“I’m hoping we will rethink and revisit the issue,” he said.

OCC Executive Director of Marketing and Communications Janet Roberts said other colleges throughout Michigan also have higher out-of-state tuition rates, including Mid-Michigan Community College’s rate of $485, the second highest being Grand Rapids Community College’s $328.50.

Tuition is currently set at $176 for out-of-state and foreign students at Macomb Community College. Tuition costs $154.25 for Henry Ford Community College out-of-state and international students.

She said it is important to note that fewer than 2 percent of OCC international students will pay the adjusted rate.

“Many of those are students that are here on visas that would bring them here temporarily just for education and then return home,” Roberts said. “I think that was a misunderstanding for the people that were bringing forward this issue (that) it is all international students, and that is not the case.”         

She added that different rates are based on visa statuses, residency and other factors.

“It is not a black and white issue,” she said.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Sherri Kolade at skolade@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1046.