Federal judge rules UNT can’t charge out-of-state students more tuition than undocumented students
The lawsuit against the University of North Texas argues out-of-state American citizens shouldn’t pay more than undocumented Texans. A federal judge agreed.
A federal judge has ruled that the University of North Texas can’t charge out-of-state American students higher tuition than undocumented Texans who qualify for lower in-state tuition under a 2001 Texas law.
UNT lawyers appealed last week’s decision by U.S. District Judge Sean Jordan, a Trump appointee, over the weekend. If upheld, the decision could impact other Texas public universities, which depend financially on charging higher out-of-state student tuition.
The ruling centers on Texas’ 2001 law allowing undocumented students who have lived in Texas for three years and graduate from a Texas high school to pay in-state tuition.
This recent challenge by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, on behalf of the student organization the Young Conservatives of Texas, could provide a new path forward for some Texas lawmakers who have wanted to eliminate the in-state tuition benefit for undocumented students since at least 2015.
In 2021, a little more than 22,000 students were enrolled in Texas colleges and universities using this benefit.
Two years ago, the right-leaning TPPF filed the lawsuit, pointing out that the 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.
Jordan, the federal judge, agreed.
“Because Texas’s non-resident tuition scheme directly conflicts with Congress’s express prohibition on providing eligibility for postsecondary education benefits, it is preempted and therefore unconstitutional,” Jordan wrote.
Other university systems in the state said they are still reviewing this ruling.
But Thomas A. Saenz, president of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, criticized the judge’s ruling.
“It’s hard not to see it as a Trump judge overreaching to try to change longstanding law in the state of Texas,” said Saenz, who is also MALDEF’s general counsel. He found the ruling surprising given the amount of time the state law has been in place.
“It’s obviously a political lawsuit, and granting that political lawsuit is what’s disturbing,” he said.
TPPF lawyer Rob Henneke said he’s excited the ruling will make Texas colleges and universities more affordable for out-of-state students.
“For the thousands of college students in Texas who’ve been burdened by these higher out-of-state tuition rates, they get immediate relief from having to pay so much to be educated,” he said.
According to New American Economy, a bipartisan research group, out-of-state tuition rates are on average three times higher than in-state rates.