Today, The Monitor came out with a story on a recent lawsuit to challenge the Texas law allowing undocumented students access to in-state tuition. The article mentions both sides for and against the issue, but unfortunately many readers have decided to chime in with hateful “against” comments instead of actually trying to understand this complex issue that affects thousands of students in our country.
I want to take a minute to address these comments as straightforwardly as possible – I hope that readers will put away their bias for a few minutes and see this issue from a logical, economic and humane perspective.
First of all, let’s go over what the current law actually states since there seems to be a lot of confusion as to what’s being offered to undocumented students. The Texas law (House Bill 1403) allows undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition and ability to apply for financial aid if they qualify by meeting the following criteria:
1) graduated or the equivalent from a Texas high school
2) resident in the state for at least three years as of the date of high school graduation or receipt of the equivalent of a high school diploma
3) registration no earlier than the fall of 2001 as a student in a postsecondary institution
4) sign an affidavit stating the intent to file an application to become a permanent resident at the earliest possible opportunity.
So, it is clear that one has to meet a lot of standards in order to even be eligible for in-state tuition. Next, the key here is that most undocumented immigrants are in fact paying out of pocket to be able to meet that in-state tuition rate. Sure, some get a little bit of financial aid or scholarships if they’re lucky but most undocumented students, like most students in America, are working hard to pay their own way through college. Students aren’t getting a free education on anyone’s “expense” (a common angry comment in the article) and I can’t believe I still have to keep repeating this but: YES these students are also paying taxes (from obvious sales taxes to their income taxes).
What it logically comes down to is the fact that tuition rates (in-state v. out of state) should be based on residency, not citizenship. (Residency meaning how long you have lived in that particular state.) In this case, the law says that as long as the student has lived in the state for 3 years, they deserve to pay an in-state rate since they meet the standard of what ‘residency’ means. The argument that these undocumented Texan residents are somehow benefiting over non-Texan residents is false. In fact, a person from another state can look up standards on how to qualify for residency in Texas so they too can receive in-state tuition. For example, UT-Austin only requires that a person live in Texas for 12 months (meeting certain conditions) in order to establish residency to receive in-state tuition. It just goes again to show that tuition rates in Texas are rightly based on residency (how many years a person has lived in that state) rather than citizenship.
On top of all of that, making higher education more accessible and affordable for all students is an economically-sound goal. According to the American Association for State Colleges and Universities, “it would seem to be in states’ economic and fiscal interests to promote at least a basic level of education beyond high school to alien students, to increase their contribution to economic growth while reducing the prospect of dependence on public/community assistance.”
This is a complex issue folks. Most of these students were forced into this situation – their parents were just doing what they thought was best and didn’t anticipate these consequences. It’s not the students’ fault that they’re caught up in our broken immigration system without a path to legalization. Why should these students be punished for their parents’ actions or for the bureaucracy in our failed immigration system that has led us in this crisis? Why are we punishing students who are obviously working hard and trying to go to college to get a good job to help the economy and support their families? Further, why would we deport our brightest students – students that have been educated in the US public education system and have so much to contribute to our society?
If you want to get angry at the higher education system, let’s talk about ridiculous student loans or skyrocketing tuition rates or hardships in accessing scholarships and financial aid. But please, don’t blame immigrants for your education or financial woes. Remember, it’s logical to give students who have lived in the state of Texas for much of their lives ‘in-state’ tuition, it’s economically sound and it’s the right thing to do since these students had no say in their situation.