AUSTIN – About 20,000 immigrant students will lose in-state tuition benefits and state grants under a proposal whose supporters say undocumented students are taking slots at public universities reserved for Texas citizens.
The proposal reverses a 2001 law in which legislators gave the right to in-state tuition to students who have graduated from Texas high schools, lived here for three years and proved their intent to become citizens.
On Monday, a lawmaker who helped pass the law gathered with others on the Capitol steps to protest the measure, saying it's an misguided reaction to the nation’s broken immigration policy.
“We had this discussion in 2001. Sometimes Texas gets it right,” said Rick Noriega, a former Democratic state representative from Houston. “It was good public policy. It was the right thing to do.”
Bill Hammond, CEO of the Texas Association of Business, said revoking in-state tuition for undocumented students would be “a tragedy.”
“For us, it’s about the workforce," he said. "Sixty percent of the jobs being created today require post-secondary education,” including about 8,000 information technology job openings in Austin today.
“Our message is, ‘Please do not repeal a program that is working for Texas,'" said Hammond.
About a quarter of the undocumented immigrants who receive in-state tuition attend four-year universities.
Non-resident tuition for a 30-credit hour schedule is $19,070, according to Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board estimates. Texas residents pay about $7,973.
Last fall more than 1.3 million students were enrolled in Texas' public colleges and universities.
Authors of the proposal to take away in-state benefits for undocumented immigrants say the cost of the benefit has increased 68 percent over the past three years.
At that rate, said Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, funding in-state tuition for those students will cost $100 million by 2020.
But the total impact of the proposal is unknown due to a number of factors including the case-by case nature of how tuition is calculated, according to the Legislative Budget Board.
The state's savings from ending the benefit will depend upon each student's decision to pay the increased tuition, whether other would-be students fill those slots, and the level of state support for formula funding, the board said.
Lizeth Urdiales, 20, a 2013 graduate of Spring Woods High School in Houston, knows the impact for her. She'll no longer be able to afford attending the University of Texas at Austin, she said.
Urdiales’ mother brought her to Texas from Mexico when she was five years old. They decided to stay when her younger sister was born here and they realized the child’s medical problems could only be treated in Houston.
“I can’t say I haven’t cried,” about the prospect of not finishing her Mexican-American studies degree at UT, she said, but she’s looking for financial aid elsewhere, just in case. “I’ve applied to go to the University of Pennsylvania and Stanford.”