With immigration back on the front pages and in-state tuition for certain undocumented students a barometer by which some GOP presidential candidates have set their conservatism, Fox has renewed its push to promote anti-immigrant efforts. In a post last week, Fox Nation featured two students from a conservative group at Texas A&M University who are trying to repeal the Texas DREAM Act, a law that grants in-state tuition to certain undocumented students to attend college in Texas. Fox Nation trumpeted their opposition after they appeared on Fox News' Fox & Friends:
The students, Steven Schroeder and Justin Pulliam, from a student group called the Texas Aggie Conservatives, appeared on Fox & Friends and argued that "Texas taxpayers should not be forced to subsidized the college education of adults who cannot legally work in the United States." The Aggie Conservatives have started a petition asking Gov. Rick Perry to "call special legislative session to end in-state tuition for illegal immigrants." A separate group at the University of Texas countered with a statement of its own, condemning the Aggie Conservatives' action.
During the interview, co-host Gretchen Carlson agreed that "many, many, many, many, many millions" of taxpayers do subsidize undocumented students' college education. She did not point out, however, that the state gained more than $11 million in 2010 from the tuition and fees paid by undocumented students.
Not only that, but as the El Paso Times reported, "undocumented immigrants who live in the state pay sales taxes and other taxes, which contribute to funding higher education in Texas." According to the Times:
Higher education for Texas students is primarily funded by state dollars and through tuition and fees. Texas kicks in state dollars to subsidize the college education for in-state residents whose tax dollars contribute to funding higher education.
Last year, the state provided about $12.1 million in formula funding for undocumented students who qualified as Texas residents. Those students, in turn, paid $32.7 million in tuition and fees.
Officials with the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and both liberal and conservative policy think tanks said another point that gets missed is that undocumented immigrants who live in the state pay sales taxes and other taxes, which contribute to funding higher education in Texas.
"Anybody who meets the criteria for receiving in-state tuition has actually been paying the tax to fund it for some time and, so, in that sense, it's probably not strictly accurate to say that this is a benefit that is simply received on the backs of legal residents of the state," said Joshua Trevino, the vice president of communications for the conservative think tank, Texas Public Policy Foundation.
Co-host Brian Kilmeade agreed with the students' contention that it is "ridiculous" that "illegal immigrants are entitled to a free ride or reduced tuition."
Despite the benefits, economic and social, of facilitating a college education for undocumented students and of passing a federal DREAM Act, Fox continues to be a vocal opponent of both. Indeed, Fox has repeatedly misinformed on the benefits of in-state tuition for undocumented students and repeatedly referred to the DREAM Act legislation as a "nightmare."
The 10-year-old Texas law, passed in 2001 with bipartisan support, allows any non-immigrant student who has lived in the state for three years, graduated from a public or private high school in Texas or received a GED in Texas, to qualify for resident status. This law applies to undocumented students, as well as legal students who are neither permanent residents or U.S. citizens.
In 2007, according to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, those students accounted for "slightly more than eight tenths of one percent of the public institution enrollment." In 2010, the number was 1 percent. But of that 1 percent, of course, not all were undocumented students. Since the law's passage 10 years ago, 22,697 students who qualified under the law have gone on to attend college in Texas. Just for some perspective, enrollment at the University of Texas-Austin is more than twice that at 51,145 this fall.
The law also allows these students to apply for state financial aid. A little less than 10,000 aid packages were awarded to about 5,100 students who qualified for aid in 2010, according to THECB. That's still about 1 percent.
One thing that Fox rarely mentions in these discussions is that any U.S. citizen or permanent resident can qualify for resident status and in-state tuition at most public colleges and universities after a year of residency. At UT-Austin, for example, out-of-state or nonresident students are eligible to apply for resident status after living in the state for 12 months, provided they meet certain requirements. These students can also apply for federal aid, whereas undocumented students cannot.
Houston Community Newspapers recently reported:
While he voted in favor of the state's DREAM Act in 2001, Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, would support its reconsideration "if that's what's appropriate," he said.
Since students eligible under state DREAM Act criteria must have a GED or a diploma from an accredited Texas high school, "That means the residency requirement is three times longer than it is for anyone else to get in-state tuition," Williams said, "and it should be.
"I think we set the bar pretty high here."