Taxpayers and Students Paying for Illegal Immigrant College Education

HOUSTON –The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board recently released a report, “Eligibility for In-State Tuition and State Financial Aid Programs”, that discusses how students, including illegal immigrants, can use residency status to pay lower tuition and be eligible for state financial aid. The Coordinating Board estimates that $23.6 M in state and institutional financial aid was provided to these students in 2009. Of that, $17.7 million went to pay for the education of college students who could be in the United States illegally. Even more perplexing is that some of these funds come from tuition set asides – an embedded tax on the tuition paid by students of all Texas public universities.

In 2001, the Texas Legislature passed House Bill 1403 that made several changes to the Texas Education Code, including creating a path for non-U.S. citizens who did not claim residency status with the federal government to gain access to in-state tuition rates at Texas public institutions of higher education. These state laws attempt to circumvent the federal law by simply not asking students whether they are in the US legally. To qualify, the student must have lived with a Texas parent or guardian for 36-months up to high school graduation and sign an affidavit promising the intent to apply for permanent resident status as soon as they are able to do so. However, State law does not delegate authority to any entity to monitor whether students are complying with the content or provisions of the affidavit and no evidence has been obtained to indicate that anyone is monitoring these affidavits.

The THECB reports that in 2009 14,292 students used the provisions of TEC 54.052(a)(3) to qualify for in-state tuition rates and meet the residency requirements for state financial aid programs. Of these students, 3,716 were not legal U.S. residents and were required to complete affidavits. These same students received over 7,400 financial aid awards in 2009. Currently, affidavits are the only way to estimate the number of illegal immigrant students taking advantage of the program as the THECB does not track this information.

Students seeking financial aid that are non-U.S. citizens, who are ineligible to apply for federal student aid, who can meet the Texas state residency requirements under 54.052 and 54.053 of the Texas Education Code can complete the Texas Application for State Financial Aid (TASFA) in lieu of the FAFSA form. These students can then compete for state funds without being U.S. Citizens or legal U.S. residents and for all state financial aid programs with the exception of the B-On-Time loan program and Early High School Graduation Scholarship Program. An interesting twist is that some of these state financial aid programs, like the Texas Public Education Grant, are funded by Tuition Set Asides taken each semester from every student’s tuition.

The tuition set asides, created by House Bill 3015 in 2003, requires all public universities set aside a certain percentage (20% for undergraduate students, 15% for graduate students) of every student’s tuition each semester to fund needs-based financial assistance programs for Texas residents, including students qualifying as Texas Residents under the provisions of TEC 54.052. This means that a Texas student paying $2,500 per semester in tuition will have $500 of their tuition set aside each semester for financial assistance programs under HB 3015 which could be going to illegal immigrants.

As the costs associated with higher education have continued to rise, more students and families are struggling to pay for college and must find additional funding sources to meet the growing costs. Yet many of these families are unaware that a significant portion of their tuition is used to provide financial assistance to other students, including illegal immigrants. It seems to be a different story for illegal immigrants, who paid only $9.5 M of the $27.2 M (34%) out of pocket for tuition and fees in 2009. Taxpayers and students were responsible for paying the remaining $17.7 M tuition and fee costs for these potentially illegal immigrant students.

Stop Texas Set Asides is an organization of current and former Texas college students who were shocked to find out that 20% of our college tuition had been “set aside”, without our knowledge, to fund another’s education. Stop Texas Set Asides is working to inform college students across the state of Texas about this hidden tax on education and put this practice to an end.