More Deception on In-State Tuition for Illegals
Back in October, I pointed out that the academic study on the effects of a policy of offering in-state college tuition to illegal immigrants cited in the media and by the Board of Governors for Higher Education was so erroneous as to be fraudulent. Now, a comment on Newsmakers from the board’s chairman, Lorne Adrain, has brought another bit of… let’s say… creative interpretation to data on the matter. I’ve cued up the video to the relevant moment:
The interviewers chuckle and greet with incredulity Adrain’s assertion that the people of Rhode Island had shown that they “embrace” the notion of in-state tuition for illegals, leading Adrain to draw a distinction between the “loud” people who show up for hearings and residents more generally. As evidence of the latter’s views, he refers back to a Brown University poll showing that “the vast majority of Rhode Islanders felt that this was a good thing.”
Astute viewers will note that Adrain begins by explaining the necessity of having “sufficient conversation about the question to get a sense of how the people of Rhode Island feel about it” and ends by dismissing a broad portion of the feedback that his board received. His conclusion, apparently, is that the people who take the time to opine in public forums and attend hearings don’t count as much as the 508 folks who happened to pick up the phone when Brown randomly called their phone numbers, because he mentions no other source of information about “how the people of Rhode Island feel.”
In order to do a PolitFact-style check on Adrain’s assertion of a “vast majority,” I found the poll release itself, and indeed, it reports that:
Rhode Islanders show strong consensus on issues of immigrant education: 83 percent support programs for teaching immigrant children English, and 68 percent support extending in-state tuition rates to undocumented immigrant children who graduate from Rhode Island high schools.
In modern usage, a 68% majority is close enough to “vast” to count. But the poll also found that 54% of respondents support a law requiring “local police” to “arrest anyone who is present in the country without proper documentation.” How do these two findings coincide? Well, the actual question asked on in-state tuition gives a clue:
Illegal immigrant children attending college in our state should be charged a higher tuition rate at state colleges and universities: a) strongly agree/agree, 23%; b) neither agree nor disagree, 9%; c) disagree/strongly disagree, 68%
It is definitely possible that some of the people who answered “disagree/strongly disagree” might have done so because they think that illegal immigrants should not be attending state colleges and universities at all — they should be deported. As a matter of the question’s construction, though, we also have to note that it does not specify “higher tuition” than what. It sounds more like such students would be charged an “illegal immigrant” penalty, which gives the sense of taking advantage of a captive class. Had respondents been asked whether illegal immigrants’ tuition should be equal to out-of-state tuition, the answer might have been different.
What’s particularly disturbing about this journey of the data from a poorly posed question to a factor in a public official’s policy decision is the place in which most of the shift was made: by the poll takers themselves. It’s not as if Adrain, recalling a survey from last spring, misremembered the specific import of the question. Rather, the Brown University Taubman Center, itself, took a pretty open question and layered in the relevant specifics after the fact. The question says nothing about “in-state” tuition or “children who graduate from Rhode Island high schools.” Those are elements that the surveyors thought it important to insinuate into the news coverage of their results.
And yet, it is on the basis of this sort of information that those who lead our state and our nation choose a way forward — or, more accurately, that they attempt to justify their own preferences to a nation with whom they share an increasingly narrow set of values.