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Statement on domicile status application processes

The following is a response from Sallie Marchello, associate provost and university registrar, to a Feb. 26 column in the Washington Post. -Ed

In a recent column, which appeared on February 26 in the Washington Post, Jay Mathews presented a single email exchange as representative of the entire approach at William & Mary to the evaluation of domicile. His assertions are false, not only in that they do not reflect our established procedure, but also because William & Mary is absolutely committed to facilitating student access to higher education in a way that does not discriminate on any basis. The article also references federal financial aid guidelines, which do not inform or drive Virginia domicile determination.

William & Mary, as a public institution, is bound in determining student domicile (in-state/out-of-state tuition eligibility) by the Code of Virginia and accompanying guidelines that we receive from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV). These guidelines presume that most undergraduate applicants are dependent on a parent or guardian and take the domicile status of the parent/guardian who provides financial support or claims the student on taxes. However, the guidelines allow for dependent students to establish a domicile status based on their own eligibility criteria, separately from their parents’ eligibility. 

Scenarios in which a dependent student takes a domicile different from the parent/guardian are rare and usually highly individualized.  It has been and continues to be the practice of the domicile staff at William & Mary to permit applicants to pursue this option. Sometimes getting to this "exception" requires a series of emails between the applicant and our staff, because the individual circumstances are not always available on the basic domicile application.

In several dozen cases a year, we worked with the applicant directly and extensively to reach a beneficial outcome for the student. We are reviewing our communications related to that process to ensure no messages are inadvertently discouraging.

We at William & Mary are distressed both by the implication that we would “play games with” our applicants and by the errors in the column. We work hard every day to assist applicants through the domicile process in a way that leads to beneficial outcomes for the students and complies with state law and guidelines. In this year’s review, we have not denied domicile to a U.S. citizen based on the parent’s immigration status. Rather, we assist applicants in applying on their own when circumstances dictate. 

We encourage students to engage with us and allow us to help them in reaching their higher education goals.

Sara L. Marchello
Associate Provost and University Registrar

From the Code of Virginia:

"The domicile of a dependent student shall be rebuttably presumed to be the domicile of the parent or legal guardian (i) claiming him as an exemption on federal or state income tax returns currently and for the tax year prior to the date of the alleged entitlement or (ii) providing him with substantial financial support." (Text of full section)

From SCHEV Guidelines:

"A dependent student is presumed to have the domicile of the parent or legal guardian listing the student as an exemption for tax purposes or providing substantial financial support. A dependent student aged 18 or over may seek to demonstrate a domicile independent of such parent or legal guardian regardless of financial dependency; however, the student is presumed to have the same domicile as his parents or legal guardian unless he can show to the contrary by clear and convincing evidence." (Complete text of domicile guidelines: see Part II, Article 01, Section 2, C, 3)