UNT can’t charge out-of-state students higher tuition than undocumented students: judge

The University of North Texas can no longer charge out-of-state students higher tuition than undocumented students who qualify as in-state residents, according to a federal judge’s ruling last week.

The ruling could affect public universities across the state and place the “Noriega Bill,” a 2001 Texas law that allows undocumented Texas residents to pay in-state rates, as a barrier to charging out-of-state tuition.

In late 2020, the Texas Public Policy Foundation filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Young Conservatives of Texas against the university that challenged the constitutionality of state codes that set the price for tuition costs and establish residency status.

The lawsuit pointed to the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, a federal law that says migrants living in the country unlawfully can’t qualify for “any postsecondary education benefit” unless the same benefit is made available to all U.S. citizens regardless of their residence.

The Young Conservatives of Texas claim that by allowing undocumented students to pay less than out-of-state students, the University of North Texas is violating federal law.

U.S. District Judge Sean Jordan, a Trump appointee, ruled in favor of the Young Conservatives of Texas.

“Because Texas’s nonresident tuition scheme directly conflicts with Congress’s express prohibition on providing eligibility for postsecondary education benefits, it is preempted and therefore unconstitutional under the Supremacy Clause,” Jordan wrote.

Although UNT was the only university sued, public universities across Texas follow the same state laws, and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board is responsible for calculating the annual nonresident tuition rate.

On Sunday, UNT’s lawyers appealed Jordan’s decision.

If the ruling is upheld, universities across the state could be barred from charging out-of-state fees in upcoming academic semesters, potentially losing millions in revenue. This could lead the state legislature to end in-state tuition for undocumented students, a benefit that Republican lawmakers have tried to end as recently as last year.

The average annual cost of tuition and fees at UNT is nearly $12,000 for an in-state student and about $24,000 for an out-of-state student.

In Dallas-Fort Worth, tuition and fees at the University of Texas at Arlington are about $11,500 for in-state and nearly $30,000 for out-of-state. Tuition and fees at the University of Texas at Dallas are more than $16,000 for in-state students and more than $40,000 for out-of-state students.