The Sept. 22, 2011, Republican presidential debate in Orlando delivered more criticism of Texas Gov. Rick Perry for his stance on offering certain illegal immigrants in Texas the same college tuition that legal residents pay.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney gave a number that especially resonates in Austin: "To go to the University of Texas, if you're an illegal alien, you get an in-state tuition discount. You know how much that is? That's $22,000 a year."
Romney added: "Four years of college, almost $100,000 discount if you are an illegal alien (and) go to the University of Texas."
On Tuesday, Romney's campaign featured that debate moment in a web ad hammering Perry on the issue.
Conveniently, we recently completed a related fact-check on a claim that Rick Santorum made in the Sept. 12 Republican presidential debate, so we had a few numbers ready to hand. Based on data from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, the average gap between in-state and out-of-state tuition at Texas public universities in 2011 was $9,800: A non-resident, full-time student would be expected to pay an estimated $17,000 in tuition and fees, while an in-state resident would pay $7,200.
That $9,800 is much smaller than the "discount" Romney cited for UT, but the board confirms that UT’s tuition rates are higher than average and the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition is higher. The in-state costs at UT were the second-highest and UT’s out-of-state tuition was the highest among Texas’ 37 public universities that reported 2011 estimates to the board.
Romney’s campaign cited U.S. News and World Report UT tuition figures for 2011-12 of $9,794 in-state and $32,506 out-of-state. When we inquired, the coordinating board cited the same figures, rounded, from UT in calculating its averages: $9,800 in-state and $32,500 out-of-state tuition. Those numbers yield a "discount" of $22,700 -- the biggest gap between in-state and out-of-state resident tuition among the 37 Texas public universities that reported 2011 estimates to the board. The next biggest differences: UT-Dallas, $17,026; Texas A&M University, $15,390; and University of Houston-Clear Lake, $10,838. Nearly all the rest report a difference of $9,400 or less.
So, Romney’s "discount" of $22,000 for a year at UT holds up, but his extrapolation of "almost $100,000" across four years is a bit dodgier. The real difference (presuming the 2011-12 tuition charges hold for four years) would be $90,800. Probably most college students would find the $9,200 difference to be significant.
However, not only is UT one of the most expensive schools Romney could have picked for this example, but very few of the illegal immigrants receiving this tuition break choose to attend UT.
To get the in-state rate, illegal immigrants must have a Texas high school diploma or GED, have lived in Texas for at least three years and sign an affidavit of their intention to apply for permanent residency. Only 16,476 students in Texas took this affidavit route in 2010, and only 612 of those — about 4 percent — went to UT, said Dominic Chavez, senior director for external relations with the higher education board. Most of the "affidavit" students in Texas, by far, choose community colleges, he said; 73 percent of the total 16,476 affidavit students did so in 2010. (The breakdown: 4,403 went to public universities; 12,028 chose community colleges; the remaining 45 students went to public health-related institutions, where the average "discount" was $10,800 -- an example is the UT Medical Branch at Galveston.)
And for those community college students, the in-state reduction on tuition is smaller: between $1,600 and $2,600. Though the residency requirements and categories differ from those at public universities, the lowest rate for which students (including affidavit students) can qualify is the "in-district" rate. Among the 53 community colleges reporting 2011 estimates to the Texas coordinating board, the average in-district tuition was $2,200; the average out-of-district tuition was $3,200; and the average non-resident (out-of-state) tuition was $4,800.
To take a step back and view the big picture: Of 1.3 million college students in Texas in 2010, 1.2 percent (16,476) were illegal immigrants receiving tuition breaks through the affidavit route. (The even bigger picture: Texas’ 1.65 million illegal immigrants made up 6.7 percent of the state’s total population in 2010, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.)
Stated another way, only 1 percent of Texas’ illegal immigrants got the in-state rates in 2010. And of those, 73 percent got an average reduction of $2,600 or less; the remaining 27 percent average closer to $10,000 per year.
So let’s return to Romney’s statement: "Four years of college, almost $100,000 discount if you are an illegal alien (and) go to the University of Texas."
For the 612 affidavit students at the University of Texas last year, Romney’s figure of $22,000 per year is approximately correct, even a bit low; but quadrupling the real average adds up to $90,800 over four years, not $100,000.
Not only is that UT tuition break the very highest that Romney could have cited among Texas public universities, it went to only 4 percent of the illegal immigrants who received in-state tuition rates last year.
The vast majority of affidavit students in Texas last year got an average in-state tuition reduction of $1,600 to $2,600. If they got that rate for four years, the total "discount" would be $6,400 to $10,400. And that group of 12,028 community college affidavit students made up less than 1 percent of the 1,364,911 college students enrolled in Texas last year.
Romney’s $100,000 figure is only $9,200 off the mark for the University of Texas, but with 73 percent of affidavit students receiving $10,400 or less over four years, his choice to use UT as an example gives a skewed representation of the reality of illegal immigrants seeking college education in Texas.
We rate his statement Mostly True.