A federal judge’s ruling could give out-of-state students access to cheaper tuition at Texas colleges and universities and renew efforts to curb the lower rates for undocumented students.
The Texas Public Policy Foundation, which represented the Young Conservatives of Texas, filed a lawsuit against the University of North Texas arguing against a state law that lets undocumented students pay in-state tuition while out-of-state Americans paid more — leading U.S. District Judge Sean Jordan to agree that such a move is unconstitutional.
“If a university provides an educational benefit based on residence to an alien who lacks lawful immigration status, then that university must provide the same benefit to a United States citizen regardless of the citizen’s residency,” Jordan wrote in his ruling issued last week.
Attorneys for the university have filed a notice of appeal, said James Berscheidt, UNT’s vice president for marketing and communications, in an email.
At UNT, the average annual cost of attendance for a Texas resident is more than $26,500. For out-of-state students, the average annual cost of attendance is about $38,800.
Robert Henneke, general counsel and executive director at TPPF, said in a statement that the state’s universities “cannot willingly violate federal law to benefit noncitizens in Texas at the expense of U.S. citizens.”
“Now that a federal judge has rightly declared the out-of-state tuition statute unconstitutional, no Texas state university should continue to charge out-of-state students a higher tuition rate, starting with the upcoming summer semester,” Henneke said.
Texas was the first state to allow undocumented students to qualify for in-state tuition since lawmakers approved the effort in 2001.
To qualify for in-state tuition, students must show they have lived in Texas for three consecutive years before graduating from a Texas high school or obtaining a GED. They must also sign an affidavit indicating that they intend to apply for permanent resident status as soon as they are able to do so.
Efforts to rollback in-state tuition for undocumented students could have far-reaching impacts for families and schools.
“Texas Dreamers are Texans. This political decision ignores the facts, plain and simple. And now, out-of-state students with no connection to Texas will be given preferential treatment that will result in less opportunities for students who graduate from our neighborhood schools,” said state Rep. Rafael Anchía, a Dallas Democrat, in a statement. Anchía is the chairman of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus.
The Texas Tribune, which first reported on the lawsuit, noted that about 22,000 college students benefited from the provision in 2021. About 52% of Texas’ 5.4 million public students in elementary through high school are Latino, with many citizens and some coming from families with various immigration statuses.
Meanwhile, the shifting demographics have meant that more state schools are reaching or nearing the Hispanic-Serving Institution status, which unlocks millions in funding to help support all students at such colleges and universities.
The law to offer in-state tuition to undocumented students was signed by former Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican. But some conservatives have tried to dial back the effort several times in the past two decades.
In 2012, one bill would have ended the effort completely.
More recently, in the 2021 legislative session, Republican lawmakers authored a bill that would not have allowed unauthorized immigrants to be considered a resident of the state for the purpose of determining tuition. The bill was referred to the House Higher Education Committee but never received a hearing.
Out-of-state tuition is about three times higher than in-state costs, according to the Education Data Initiative, a research group that focuses on the country’s education system.
As of this summer, at least 19 states have provisions allowing for in-state tuition rates for undocumented students, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
(Staff writer Emily Donaldson contributed to this report.)
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