Maine’s taxpayer-funded community colleges are advertising free college scholarships for recent graduates, including non-citizens and illegal aliens.
“FREE COLLEGE SCHOLARSHIP,” states a promotional brochure obtained by the Maine Wire.
“To qualify students must: Have a HS diploma or equivalent from 2020-2023, Enroll full time, pursue a degree or academic credential, Live in Maine while enrolled, Noncitizens qualify for the scholarship…”
A related website operated by the Maine Community College System (MCCS) contains an FAQ which also boasts that “noncitizens” qualify for the free scholarship.
Living in a community college dormitory satisfies the requirement that a scholarship recipient live in Maine, which opens the door to applications for noncitizens from anywhere on the planet, including those currently living illegally in the U.S.
Republicans on the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee Wednesday learned that noncitizens were being recruited for free scholarships at Maine’s community colleges and immediately ended participation in a committee work session.
“Republicans in the 131st Legislature will not stand for free Community College for out of state or foreign students,” Republican members of the committee said in a joint statement to the Maine Wire.
“Maine Taxpayers would not be in favor of the Governor’s proposal (or the Community College’s interpretation of the law) if they knew about it,” they said.
The Republican committee members said they will not return to a committee work session until language allowing for noncitizens to receive free scholarships is removed from Gov. Janet Mills’ so-called “change package.”
Noel Gallagher, a spokesperson for MCCS, said in an emailed statement that it was the legislature’s decision to create a scholarship program that allowed noncitizens to receive free scholarships.
“Te Free College Scholarship is designed so that anyone who graduated from high school or its equivalent in 2020-23 qualifies,” Gallagher said. “It’s a last-dollar scholarship, so qualifying students must try to get state and federal aid first by filling out the FAFSA. However, certain students cannot fill out a FAFSA. That does not disqualify them from the Free College Scholarship. It is noted that they cannot fill out the FAFSA and the scholarship is applied.”
Gallagher was not able to say how many noncitizens received full scholarships during the last school year.
“Free College Scholarship students must live in Maine while enrolled,” said Gallagher.
Republican lawmakers privately acknowledged that some GOP lawmakers in the 130th Legislature voted in favor of the original free scholarship program, which did not include an explicit bar against noncitizens receiving the taxpayer-funded benefit.
The addition of “noncitizens” to MCCS’ promotional literature appears to be a recent addition.
Testimony documents submitted to lawmakers by MCCS President David Daigler in February did not include scholarships for “noncitizens” in the section on free scholarships.
Renewing her free community college plan has been an initiative of Gov. Mills since she won re-election in November.
In January, she proposed a biennial budget that increased community college system spending 4.5 percent and provided $20 million in additional funds to continue the community college scholarship initiative.
In addition, the spending package she announced last week, which her team is attempting to market as a “change” package, included a separate additional funding allotment for community colleges.
According to draft documents covering the details of that plan, the only conditions the new bill would carry for free scholarships is that an individual must have recently graduated or received the equivalent credential, and must live in Maine.
Last fall, 16,791 students enrolled in one of Maine’s community colleges, according to the MCCS reports, including 5,574 who received the free scholarship. 70 percent of students received some form of financial aid.
According to the community college system, tuition for Maine residents is $2,880 per year, plus $800-$1,000 in additional fees. The room and board package costs $5,600-$11,000. Rates are slightly higher for applicants who are not a Maine resident at the time they apply.
Maine’s community colleges apply their scholarships on a “last dollar” basis, which means that other federal and state grants are applied to a student’s bill before the scholarship kicks in.
However, noncitizens will not be eligible for federal Pell grants, which means the state could be shouldering a greater share of the tuition payments for noncitizens than for citizens.
The flier and the website (FreeCommunityCollegeMaine.com) are a joint project of Maine’s community college system, which includes Central Maine Community College (CMCC) in Auburn, Eastern Maine Community College (EMCC) in Bangor, Kennebec Valley Community College (KVCC) in Fairfield, Northern Maine Community College (NMCC) in Presque Isle, Southern Maine Community College (SMCC) in South Portland, Washington County Community College (WCCC) in Calais, and York County Community College (YCCC) in Wells.
According to the website, prospective students don’t even need to apply for the scholarship separately.
“All you have to do is apply to one of Maine’s seven community colleges (you can fill out the form above to get started) and the college will reach out to award the scholarship,” the website states.
There are already indications that Mills’ first free community college promise led to a surge in demand for enrollment.
Liz Oken, the Director of Placement and Transfer Services for CMCC, told the Education Committee applications for this year were up 42.8 percent over last year.
The State Legislature is considering a resolution that would instruct the system to study what it would take to build on-campus housing for every campus.
If that were to happen, the scope of non-Mainers and non-citizens entering the system and getting free scholarships could increase.
If applications for free community college surge beyond the MCCS’s capacity to enroll students, it’s not clear how the admissions process would function.
Currently, the acceptance rate for Maine’s community colleges is 100 percent. That is, if you’re eligible and you apply, you’re in.
Gallagher, the MCC spokesperson, said the colleges can accommodate all applicants, but she declined to comment on what might happen if applications increased beyond capacity to enroll.
How that process would unfold — and whether lifelong Mainers, whose parents have been paying taxes for years, would get priority — is unclear.
Maine Wire Editor-in-Chief Steve Robinson and Sen. Jim Libby (R-Cumberland) joined WVOM’s George Hale and Ric Tyler program this morning to talk about MCCS’ recruitment of noncitizens.