Denton, Texas – In a landmark decision on Monday, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals permitted the University of North Texas to persist in levying higher tuition charges on American citizens hailing from out-of-state than on undocumented students residing in Texas. This ruling counters a federal district court decision that previously sought to halt the practice.
Out-of-state students face higher tuition as appeals court supports Texas University’s policy
This pivotal judgement, marking a turning point in the ongoing debate surrounding tuition policies, enables the university to maintain the status quo regarding its tuition structure. The reverberations of the ruling are poised to impact a host of Texas lawmakers who have been diligently striving to eradicate the in-state tuition benefit extended to undocumented students.
The court’s decision safeguards the interests of undocumented Texas-based students
This ruling not only safeguards the interests of undocumented Texas-based students who gain from reduced tuition fees but also affirms the support of advocates relentlessly fighting their cause. If the appeals court had confirmed the earlier decree, the repercussions would have resonated across all public higher education institutions in Texas, which depend substantially on the fiscal buffer provided by the surcharged rates for out-of-state students.
In elucidating its ruling, the appeals court deemed that the lower court had misconstrued the federal statute, concurrently asserting that U.S. District Judge Sean Jordan had overstepped his authority. It contested his injunction against the university from bestowing in-state tuition benefits on undocumented Texas students, arguing it was premised on an erroneous legal interpretation.
However, the court judiciously left some room for potential future legal contention concerning other elements of Texas’ in-state tuition law.
“There may be valid preemption challenges to Texas’ scheme here. But this is not one of them,” the court stated.
Court’s decision is a small win for the University of North Texas
Despite this ruling, Rob Henneke, Executive Director and General Counsel of the conservative-leaning Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF), downplayed the significance of Monday’s decision as a minor triumph for the University of North Texas. While he disputed the court’s analytical perspective, he acknowledged the judgement’s allowance for subsequent legal challenges on differing grounds.
Henneke hinted that the TPPF is currently in the process of determining their course of action, and did not rule out the potential for additional legal pursuits concerning this contentious issue.
At the core of this lawsuit is a 2001 Texas statute that permits undocumented students, given they have resided in Texas for a minimum of three years and are Texas high school graduates, to qualify for in-state tuition fees.
Three years ago, TPPF filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Young Conservatives of Texas student group at UNT. In the lawsuit, they pointed out that the federal Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 states that an individual “who does not legally reside in the United States should not be eligible for a postsecondary education benefit granted on the basis of where someone lives unless United States citizens qualify for the same benefit.”
Therefore, they argued, out-of-state students shouldn’t have to pay more than undocumented Texas students.
At UNT, the average cost of tuition and fees for an in-state student was just under $12,000 in 2022, while an out-of-state student paid closer to $24,000 on average.
Students at the University of Texas at Austin who are Texas residents pay between $11,000 and $14,000 on average for tuition, while a nonresident student pays between $38,600 and $47,000 in tuition during that same time.