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Defending the Defensible

Texas’s college tuition policy is not the abomination Mitt Romney claims.

Oct 10, 2011, Vol. 17, No. 04 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
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Their results suggested that the in-state tuition laws have very little overall effect​—​approaching zero, actually​—​on the number of illegal immigrants who enroll in college. The only subgroup which showed any increase in attendance as a result was older Mexican men (aged 22 to 24). And even in that case, the enrollment effect was quite small. Similarly, Chin and Juhn found no dampening effect of the program on the high-school dropout rate of illegals.

Chin and Juhn were only providing a first look at the data, not the final word. They suggest that, just 10 years in, it may be a while before we are able to discern what effects there are (or aren’t). Others have not been so cautious. Earlier this year the Latino Policy Institute at Roger Williams University released a big report on the subject. You’ll never believe it, but they found absolutely conclusive evidence that the in-state subsidy has an enormous impact. Giving illegals in-state tuition increases their college enrollment by 31 percent! It pushes the high-school dropout rate down by 14 percent! The long-run increase in tax revenue dwarfs the state tuition subsidy!

Unfortunately, the Roger Williams study is magical thinking, the mirror image of Romney’s critique. Where Romney can find nothing but abomination in subsidizing state-school tuition for illegals, the Latino Policy Institute finds nothing but rainbows and free lunches. The truth is that the policy is an experiment​—​and one that may produce results that are good, or bad, or indifferent.

The only definitive conclusions the Texas experiment offers are about Mitt Romney.

Jonathan V. Last is a senior writer at The Weekly Standard.

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