The Effects of In-State Tuition for Non-Citizens: A Systematic Review of the Evidence

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Latino Policy Institute at Roger Williams University

Creating national legislation to implement in-state tuition for non-citizens can have a positive effect on Latino college enrollment, and therefore their overall career achievement and eventual contribution to the state, this new study finds.

There currently is no federal or national policy that offers a provision for in-state tuition to non-citizens. However, some states have such policies, including Rhode Island where non-citizens can qualify for in-state tuition if they attended a state high school for three or more years, graduated from a state high school, or are enrolled in a college or university and agree to apply for lawful immigration status if/when they are eligible.

According to the study, Latino non-citizens are at high risk (42 to 48 percent nationally) for dropping out of high school. Research suggests that because college costs are prohibitively high, many non-citizens lose hope and drop out before completing high school.

In-state college tuition policies have been shown to decrease Latino non-citizen high school dropouts by 14 percent. They also correlate with a 31 percent increase in non-citizen higher education enrollment.

Critics of such legislation claim that non-citizens will end up “taking” citizens’ seats in colleges and universities. They also argue that in-state tuition results in higher subsidies that must be paid by taxpayers. However, according to the study, much of the research surrounding these claims is not well supported.

The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) and the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) both released research on the topic.

FAIR determined the cost of in-state tuition in their study by calculating the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition and then multiplying the difference by the number of expected additional non-citizen students. This method, according to the authors of this report, is flawed because it assumes that the same number of students paying in-state tuition would pursue higher education if forced to pay out-of-state tuition, which is incorrect. Also, their research assumes that the instructional cost of having a student attend college is the out-of-state tuition rate. This is a gross overstatement, since according to the National Center for Educational Statistics it costs $9,014 to actually teach each student at the University of Rhode Island, $6,986 at Rhode Island College and $3.356 at the Community College of Rhode Island. These numbers are far less than the respective out of state tuition rates of $25,720, $16,878 and $9,496.

CIS found the cost of in-state tuition in their research by estimating the cost of public institute tuition subsidies ($6,000) and multiplying that number by an estimated number of illegal immigrants enrolled in public colleges and universities nationwide. This creates problems because CIS did not report the methods used to calculate the estimates and based on other reports the figure seems to be overestimated and inaccurate, the authors of this new study found. In the case of Rhode Island, the state provides a subsidy of $3,367 per full-time enrolled student. This figure remains the same regardless of whether the student is a state resident.  

The five studies used to support the claims for in-state tuition policy in this report calculated the effect of in-state tuition legislation on college enrollment of Latino non-citizens in 10 states. The studies compared non-citizen enrollment patterns pre and post in-state tuition implementation.

According to the report, more research is still needed to assess the fiscal effect of tuition legislation. However, the research should take into account the lifetime earning potential and state contribution of high school graduates versus college graduates.

Free. 32 pages. www.rwu.edu/depository/lpi/lpi-report.pdf