The University of Nevada Board of Regents decided Friday not to cut off undocumented aliens who graduate from Nevada high schools from receiving Millennium Scholarships.
The university system has never asked whether graduates with a high enough grade point average were citizens or legal immigrants. The board's attorney, Tom Ray, said legally the decision is up to the regents because, under federal law, "states have the right to determine who are residents of that state."
The issue was raised after someone questioned whether high school graduates who are undocumented aliens qualify for the benefit.
"It's my opinion citizenship is not required to qualify for the Millennium Scholarship," Ray said, adding that federal law allows states to decide who is eligible for state benefits and programs.
He recommended the board maintain its existing policy, which doesn't ask whether a a scholarship recipient is a legal immigrant or not.
The decision came as regents approved new requirements for the Millennium Scholarship program, raising the grades needed to get as well as to keep the four-year scholarship.
The change was mandated by the 2003 Legislature in an effort to extend funding available for the program more years. The scholarship program funded by Nevada's tobacco settlement money has been so successful in attracting high school graduates to Nevada's colleges, it is using up the money faster than expected.
Graduates will have to achieve at least a 3.1 grade-point average instead of 3.0 beginning with the 2005 school year. That will jump to 3.25 in 2007. In addition, the minimum 2.0 grade point needed to keep the scholarship will rise to 2.6. High school graduates who want to use the scholarship money will have six years after graduating to start instead of eight.
The board also approved the University of Nevada, Reno's use of $5 million in state funding to buy Manogue High School property on Evans Street at the north end of the campus.
Regents spent most of the morning debating whether to approve a total of $86.5 million to expand and remodel the UNLV student union and build a new recreation center.
While even opponents agreed the facilities are needed, they objected to putting the entire cost on the backs of student fees. Doing so would raise student fees $346 a year, mostly for the recreation center.
Regents Linda Howard, Steve Sisolak and Mark Alden objected, saying that much money could push some students working their way through college out of school. They pointed out $346 is as much as a four-credit class.
Alden said he would be willing to vote for the student union project but that the two together "are too much of a bite."
Sisolak and Howard both said students working to put themselves through school don't have as much opportunity to use a recreation center. Howard said the increase could hurt students working while they take classes worse than low-income students who could probably qualify for aid programs.
Regent Howard Rosenberg said the decision should be postponed until the next board meeting in Las Vegas to let more of the students who will have to pay the fee tell regents whether they support it. A narrow majority agreed and put off the decision but, after a break, Regent Tom Kirkpatrick called for reconsideration and changed his vote. Then a majority of the board agreed to approve the two huge projects and student fee increases.
Sisolak said he would bring a motion to rescind that action at the Las Vegas meeting in September when students who might not favor the fee increase can attend.