Don Sim ’11 has spent his four years in Cornell’s College of Human Ecology paying out-of-state tuition. As a result, Sim has worked as a barista in Libe Cafe as part of his federal work-study on top of a rigorous pre-med course load. But as Sim finishes his last semester on campus, he said he is shocked to learn that he may have been entitled to the same tuition rates as his New York peers.In high school, Sim commuted from his home in Bayonne, New Jersey, to Staten Island Academy in New York. Naturally, these educational ties to New York were not enough for Sim to reap the benefits of the in-state tuition offered by Cornell’s contract colleges.Or so he thought.A recently-uncovered statute in the New York Education Law may give Sim a claim to in-state prices.At Cornell’s contract colleges, the cost of attendance is $23,310 for a New York State resident and $39,450 for a nonresident. But recent evidence suggests that it may be less simple than that, at least for some.Section 355(2)(h)(8) of New York Education Law mandates that out-of-state residents receive the same tuition rates as New Yorkers if they meet certain criteria, two of which are graduating from a New York State high school that they attended for at least two years and applying to “an institution or educational unit of the state university” within five years of graduating.“I can’t believe no one from Cornell told me about this,” Sim said. “I had no idea.”The statute, which was intended to benefit undocumented immigrants graduating from New York high schools, was brought into public view when Raquel Basalm, Sara Strum and Lauren Beer filed a class-action suit against their alma mater, Binghamton University, and the SUNY system in the hopes of receiving the same benefits as New York state residents. Because it is a class-action lawsuit, if the court decision favors the plaintiffs, all students in the SUNY system could stand to receive reimbursements. The suit was first reported by The New York Times on Feb. 6.Basalm, Strum and Beer, all of whom had commuted to Yeshiva of Flatbush Joel Braverman High School in Brooklyn from their New Jersey residences, are demanding refunds of the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition.The case, which could cut revenue of an already cash-strapped SUNY system, has more ambiguous implications for Cornell. While Cornell’s legal department denies that Section 355(2)(h)(8) applies to the University, the suit currently includes students in Cornell’s contract colleges in the class of plaintiffs eligible for these benefits.According to Cornell’s legal department, Section 355(2)(h)(8) only applies to “state-operated institutions” in the SUNY system. The department claims that this statute does not apply to Cornell’s contract colleges, ILR, Human Ecology and CALS, on the basis that these schools only receive funding from the SUNY system and are not operated by SUNY.Peter Mustalish ’98, who along with Andrew L. Lee represents the women, disagrees with Cornell’s reading, pointing to the fact that the statute that went into effect in July 2002 does not say “a state-operated institution,” but “an institution or educational unit of the state university.”“I’m not sure it’s that simple,” Mustalish said. “SUNY trustees have general supervision over statutory colleges, and with respect to tuition, Cornell University is required to consult with SUNY trustees about their statutory college’s tuition.”SUNY administrators would not comment on pending litigation.Prof. Michael A. Olivas, University of Houston Law School, who specializes in higher education and immigration law and has helped draft six of the 11 state statutes intended to benefit undocumented immigrants, said he agreed with Mustalish, saying that matters of tuition eligibility “clearly apply” to Cornell and New York’s other contract colleges.Although Olivas said he does not think it is a university’s responsibility to inform students of these benefits, he does think that the students who seek these benefits — eligible Cornellians included — are entitled to them. He said he does not think these students should be included in the suit.“Just because New York’s law was poorly written does not mean that these free riders from New Jersey [and Connecticut] are any less eligible,” he said.The determination of whether Cornell will be included in the class-action suit will most likely take place at various hearings, the first of which is set to take place on April 15 in Binghamton, N.Y.Meanwhile, The Sun has learned that a few students are looking to see if they are eligible to reap the benefits of the statute.
Original Author: Sam Cross