For several years now, states have been debating whether public colleges should grant in-state tuition rates to illegal immigrants and their children.
Proponents argue that -- whatever one thinks of U.S. immigration policy -- many illegal immigrants are in the United States, and it is good social policy to encourage more of them to get an education sufficient to promote their economic success. Critics say that the policies reward illegal immigration and hurt taxpayers.
New data from Texas indicate that offering in-state tuition rates does have a significant impact on enrollments of illegal immigrants, which are almost 10 times what they were in 2001, when the state enacted a law to allow for the lower rates. At the same time, these students make up a minute fraction of all students, and most of them enroll at community colleges, so the data indicate that fears of illegal immigrants taking coveted spots at competitive universities are largely unfounded.
The figures are significant nationally because Texas was one of the first states to deal with the issue and has a large immigrant population.
The following are figures from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board showing the number of students who benefited from the law in the fall of 2001, right after the law was passed, and in the fall of 2004, the last period for which statewide data are available. (The increases were steady throughout the period, with the numbers going up each semester.)
Students From Illegal Immigrant Families Receiving In-State Tuition Rates in Texas
|Fall 2001||Fall 2004|
|Total -- public higher education||393||3,704|
Ray Grasshoff, a spokesman for the Texas coordinating board, said that while the percentage increases are impressive, public colleges in Texas enroll well over 1 million students. He also noted that the tuition benefit is available only to those who have graduated from a high school in the state, have lived in Texas for at least three years at the time they graduated, and are willing to pledge to apply for permanent residency status when they are eligible to do so.
Most of the enrollment in Texas has been at community colleges, where average tuition costs for out-of-state students are more than twice the $1,600 average for Texas residents. Mountain View College, part of the Dallas County Community College District, has seen its enrollments in this category increase to 146, from 0, since Texas enacted the law.
Felix Zamora, president at Mountain View, said, "the idea is really that you want to invest in all segments of your population." He said that educators at Mountain View report that the students who are enrolling are doing as well as other students. "I'm really pleased with the quality of these individuals," Zamora said.
Politically, he said that Texas politicians were swayed by the realization that the state was already "making an investment" in these students in elementary and secondary schools. So there is little for Texas to gain by having a population of people who aren't educated for good jobs, he said.
The Dallas district board, which pushed the issues, "saw this as a very pragmatic thing to do, and as the right thing to do," Zamora said.
Some immigration opponents remain skeptical. Officials of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which has campaigned against laws like the Texas measure, were not available for comment.
But Jack Martin, director of special projects for the group, was quoted in The Fort Worth Star-Telegram as saying, "These are people illegally in the country who are not entitled to work legally, so investing higher education in them makes no sense."