PROF ELLWANGER: In-state tuition for illegal immigrants is a major problem for our society

I've lived in Houston for 15 years. I know that rising college tuition and illegal immigration are two problems that Texas must address if it is going to remain one of the most desirable states to live in.

Adam Ellwanger is a professor of English at the University of Houston - Downtown. His primary areas of expertise are rhetoric and critical theory. He writes political and cultural commentary for outlets like Human Events, Quillette, American Greatness, The American Conservative, New Discourses, Minding the Campus, and many more.   

As a university professor who has lived and taught in Houston for 15 years, I know that rising college tuition and illegal immigration are two major problems that Texas will soon need to address if it is going to remain one of the most desirable states to live in.

As college tuition rises around the nation, many states are creating new laws to accommodate the rapidly-increasing number of undocumented residents. One example is policies that make it easier and cheaper for illegal immigrants to attend university – policies not only increase competition for citizens seeking college admission, but ones that can ensure that some American students pay more for school than non-citizens.

Campus Reform correspondent Emily Fowler recently reported that the University of North Texas has adopted a policy that allows illegal immigrants living in Texas to pay the in-state tuition rate, a move that means most American citizens would pay more to attend the school than people who committed a crime by entering the country.

This is a major problem for our society, and it is more common than many people suppose. It is tempting to place all the blame on the woke universities who give discounted tuition to non-citizens. But in the case of Texas, schools are simply following the lead established by the state government.

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The federal government allows any American to apply for student loans by filling out the FAFSA – the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. In Texas, though, students may also fill out the TASFA – the Texas Application for State Financial Aid, which offers loans, scholarships, and grants. The website of the University of Texas at Arlington announces that Texas “grants resident status for tuition purposes to certain non-resident students.” The criteria that determine who can apply for state aid say that the applicant must be a “US citizen or eligible non-citizen.”

In short, the state of Texas itself is funding the college expenses of illegal immigrants. Given that reality, it should come as no surprise that many of the state’s public universities treat them as in-state students.

Texas Senate Bill 1528, passed way back in 2005, ensured that applicants for state-level student aid don’t need to be citizens (or even permanent residents) of Texas. One must simply have lived in Texas for three years prior to the completion of one’s high school diploma. This is an exceptionally weak standard since people who enter the country illegally often move frequently and lack documentation or provide false documents, making the law ripe for abuse.

Texas House of Representatives Bill 1403 – the so-called Texas Dream Act – was originally passed in 2001. It offers in-state tuition for illegal immigrants to the state. A document made by Every Texan (a left-wing policy-advocacy group in the state) openly acknowledges that “in-state tuition rates are often significantly lower than the rates out-of-state students pay.” The flyer then explains that House Bill 1403 is aimed at “extending in-state tuition and grant eligibility to non-citizen residents of [Texas].” The Every Texan organization characterizes this as a “common-sense measure.”

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Public universities in Texas answer only to the state Legislature and its Higher Education Coordinating Board. Those bodies provide the guidance on how Texas colleges will be funded and run. When the legislating bodies of the state – and the groups tasked with oversight on their behalf – are enacting rules that ensure those who enter the country illegally will be treated the same as citizens (and better than US citizens from other states), it’s inevitable the schools will enact policies that reflect those priorities.

Discounted tuition for the large population of non-citizens in Texas helps to boost schools’ sinking enrollment numbers, and with the availability of state loans, those students’ arrival on campus comes with an influx of state money. Aside from the basic unfairness of this policy for US citizens, there are many other negative effects.

First, it provides another incentive for illegal migration to the United States: American schools are better than the universities in most migrants’ home countries, and the opportunity for discounted tuition is attractive. Second, American colleges, faculty, and taxpayers expend resources, time, and money in providing advanced professional training to people who may not stay in the country. In other words, those receiving the training may never use it to benefit Americans. Finally, these policies further erode the benefits of American citizenship, thereby lowering the value that our people assign to it – a phenomenon that further depresses civic commitment at a time when it is already dangerously weak.

The legislative and oversight bodies of the state need to fix these problems. New laws must be passed that ban favoritism towards illegal immigrants over American citizens. Further, state authorities should send a strong signal to Texas universities that their future funding is dependent on their compliance with these reforms. This would help to restore value to American citizenship, a key step on the path to a civic revitalization.

Editorials and op-eds reflect the opinion of the authors and not necessarily that of Campus Reform or the Leadership Institute.