Erroneous, One-Sided Public Discourse Misleads on Tuition

As news consumers across the nation and the globe are aware, on Monday, September 26, the Rhode Island Board of Governors for Higher Education approved a policy granting in-state tuition rates to illegal immigrants who attended local high schools. As recently as this spring, the General Assembly explicitly declined to join the twelve other states that offer this concession, so it is a matter of some controversy that an unelected board has cemented RI’s reputation for diluted democracy by making ours the second to join the list as a matter of policy, not law.*
With this issue, as with many others, our drift toward unabashed aristocracy is abetted by a lack of balance in the public debate, locally. The problem goes much deeper than mere media bias, down to the data on which discussion and decisions are based. In this case, a report from the Latino Policy Institute at Roger Williams University has enjoyed a near monopoly when it comes to research citations — from radio to Web sites, from television to print.
Even just in the A section of this Sunday’s Providence Journal, the institute’s findings received two high-profile mentions. The first came in a characteristically unfair PolitiFact take-down of Terry Gorman, executive director of Rhode Islanders for Immigration Law Enforcement. According to journalist Lynn Arditi, the study “showed that 74 undocumented students were attending one of the three public institutions of higher education in Rhode Island in 2009.”
The second mention came from Board of Governors member Lorne Adrain, in an op-ed written on behalf of his fellow members. Adrain explains that their decision was based, in part, on the study’s suggestion that “our state schools will still experience net new revenues from the policy.”
Both assertions are demonstrably false. At a basic level, the study has broadly been assumed to deal with illegal immigrants (or “undocumented,” if you prefer), although the term in the title and throughout the document is “non-citizens,” which the authors never define. Thus, the report’s executive summary cites the U.S. Census’s 2009 American Community Survey, finding 69,757 “non-citizens” in Rhode Island, meaning that many residents counted as “not a U.S. citizen,” no matter their legal status, as a few clicks at census.gov prove.
Something similar is true of the “74 non-citizen undergraduate students attending” public college. This data comes from the National Center for Education Statistics, and what it actually tallies are all “nonresident aliens” enrolled in RI’s public undergraduate system. Clicking “i” for information brings up the following definition: “A person who is not a citizen or national of the United States and who is in this country on a visa or temporary basis and does not have the right to remain indefinitely.”
The NCES may or may not have slipped illegal immigrants into that total, but it appears mainly intended to indicate students temporarily in the United States pursuing degrees. The new tuition policy will not apply to such “international” students. Moreover, legal-immigrant residents, whom the NCES counts among the general student body, appear already to be eligible for in-state tuition.
But let’s pretend that the Latino Policy Institute’s report actually addresses the students affected by the Board of Governor’s new policy. That is, for the sake of argument, let’s say that there are 74 illegal immigrant undergrads currently attending the University of Rhode Island (with 38), Rhode Island College (with 21), and the Community College of Rhode Island (with 15), and that in-state tuition will attract another 12 to URI, 7 to RIC, and 5 to CCRI. Will that increase in enrollment yield “net new revenues,” as Mr. Adrain claims?
The Latino Policy Institute gives that impression by factoring in the “FTE instructional cost” for each institution, or the amount that it spends on a narrow range of expenses specifically filed under “instruction.” The Institute subtracts that number from the tuition and counts the difference as a profit. Thus, the authors claim that “the enrollment of non-citizens would result in roughly $162,000 in revenue to public institutes of higher education per year.”
The glaring error in this argument is that the “net new revenue” is not coming from “net new students.” At out-of-state tuition rates, those 74 students are currently paying $1,435,010 in tuition. Give them the in-state rate, and the colleges and university are looking at a total tuition loss of $881,530. The 24 new students whom the lower tuition would supposedly attract would only bring the loss down to $703,586.
It’s worth repeating that these headcounts are essentially made up. If illegal immigrants count among those here on a “temporary basis,” there would be many fewer of them; if they count among those “who have been admitted as legal immigrants for the purpose of obtaining permanent resident alien status,” there could be many more. In any case, the question of whether new illegal immigrant students provide a profit or require a subsidy would have to be the subject of another essay. (I’d argue that they represent a net cost of thousands of dollars each per year.)
At the very least, one can say that an unelected board should not be implementing public policy in lieu of duly passed laws, especially on the basis of erroneous and one-sided research. The Board of Governors should rescind its decision, and the civic society of Rhode Island should find a way to foster better-rounded public discourse.
* I attempted to change the Providence Journal version of this essay (which appears in the paper today) to reflect an AP report that specifically cited 12 other states that offer in-state tuition to illegal immigrants, with Oklahoma having already blazed the trail of doing so via policy. Either my correction came too late, or the Projo’s findings differ from those of the AP.
ADDENDUM:
I’ve corrected Lorne Adrain’s gender in the above, and I apologize for the error. The only other “Lorne” I’ve ever heard of is Lorne Michaels from Saturday Night Live, and for some reason, my initial feeling that it was a woman’s name never went away, despite knowing that Michaels is a man. Fortunately, though, my argument does not rely whatsoever on the personal qualities of the people whom I mention, and even if it did, I provided links to all of my sources, so readers can check my results on their own.
With all of the time that I spent culling data, I didn’t have time to research Mr. Adrain’s biography, which after all, is entirely irrelevant.

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Russ
Russ
10 years ago

In this case, a report from the Latino Policy Institute at Roger Williams University has enjoyed a near monopoly when it comes to research citations — from radio to Web sites, from television to print.

Yes, why do universities get preference over “rough calculations” (your words) on a blog? Boggles the mind.
I know! You could call yourself a think tank again.

Mike
Mike
10 years ago

Your credibility on this issue is not helped by the fact that you think Lorne Adrain is female.

Justin Katz
Justin Katz(@justin)
10 years ago

Mike.
That was an error, and I will correct it. Fortunately, though, two mitigating facts apply:
* My argument does not rely in the least on the personal attributes of those whom I mention.
* My need for personal credibility is minimal, because I provided links to all of my sources, and interested readers can check my math.

Monique
Monique(@monique-chartier)
Editor
10 years ago

Bravo, Justin. Toss out half the expenses of running a college.

the amount that it spends on a narrow range of expenses

Cleverly cite the headcount of students not affected by the policy.

brings up the following definition: “A person who is not a citizen or national of the United States and who is in this country on a visa or temporary basis and does not have the right to remain indefinitely.”

(Another question: how would we know that there are 140 or 74 or 24 illegal alien students who could benefit from this policy? No one is permitted to ask the status of any student in elementary or secondary schools.)
And voila! You have a completely bogus basis for asserting that your self-serving policy will not cost the taxpayers anything.

Max Diesel
Max Diesel
10 years ago

Easy there Monique. You’re facts are dripping with sarcasm and you wouldn’t want Russ to get all wet…whoops! Too late.

Monique
Monique(@monique-chartier)
Editor
10 years ago

lol

Mike
Mike
10 years ago

You do realize Lorne Michaels is male, too?
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lorne_Michaels

Justin Katz
Justin Katz(@justin)
10 years ago

Yes, I do. The addendum that I tried to hurry through during my 20-minute lunch break didn’t adequately convey that I the female association with “Lorne” remained despite knowing that the only Lorne I’d ever heard of was a man. I’ve modified it a little.
Given that you continue to focus on the gender of Lornes, I take it that you’ve got no argument with the points that are actually relevant?

Justin Katz
Justin Katz(@justin)
10 years ago

Come to think of it, I dated a girl in high school whose stage name was (and is) “Lori Michaels.” Maybe that’s the origin of my feminization of “Lorne.”

Sammy in Arizona
Sammy in Arizona
10 years ago

For the Cafeteria Catholics
Bishop Thomas Tobin urged that people recognize that immigrants, “regardless of the status of their paperwork, are children of God and our brothers and sisters in the Human Family.”
OUR BROTHERS AND SISTERS ! !
Sammy in Arizona, be well all

helen
helen
10 years ago

Sammy in Arizona,
Here is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says about the duties of immigrants. I don’t know what they say about illegal aliens although they do tell immigrants to obey the recieving country’s laws.
From the Catechism of the Catholic Church,Part 3,Section 2,Chapter 2 Article 4,2241:
“Immigrants are obliged to respect with gratitude the material and spiritual heritage of the country that recieves them, to obey its laws and to assist in carrying civic burdens.”

helen
helen
10 years ago

Tsk. “i” before “e” except after “c”…
The debil made me do it.

Max Diesel
Max Diesel
10 years ago

Don’t you love it when the lefties turn to the church, which they despise, to make a point. Next they’ll be quoting Reagan on RIF. Whoops…again too late.

Russ
Russ
10 years ago

You have a completely bogus basis for asserting that your self-serving policy will not cost the taxpayers anything.

Yes, and completely disregard that state funding is allocated based on the number of full time enrolled students irrespective of whether the students are considered in-state or out-of-state. Trust me, these folks won’t know the difference. lol!

In 2008, the state of Rhode Island provided a subsidy of $3,367 per full time enrolled student (FTE# per year for public research universities/colleges #like URI#, and $5,264 per FTE per year for community colleges #CCRI#. This subsidy is per full time enrolled student #FTE) regardless of in-state or out of state tuition rates, and regardless of citizenship status. State subsidy budget allocations are not directly affected by the number of non-citizen students, regardless of whether they are paying in-state or out-of-state tuition.

So if it’s not about tax dollars, I wonder why some feel the need to pretend it is?

Max Diesel
Max Diesel
10 years ago

Russ,
Do you have anything other than a report from the Latino Policy Institute to substantiate your claims?

joe bernstein
joe bernstein
10 years ago

Latino Policy Institute?No hint of ethnocentric supremacist thinking there,eh?
Russ sucks up to people like that.
Is he feeling guilty for buying people out of a marginal neighborhood along with the rest of the “urban pioneer”yuppies?

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