Straw Man Arguments and Chutzpah Used to Defend Tuition Break for Illegals

By David North on December 1, 2010

Those supporting tuition breaks for illegal aliens attending college sometimes use both straw man arguments and chutzpah math to advance their cause.

There is, for example, a November 23 article in the Fresno Bee headed "Illegal immigrants are not getting free college education, Calif. official says."

The official is Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado, a Gov. Schwarzenegger appointee, and a former GOP member of the state legislature.

The first problem, the straw man argument, is that no one is saying that illegal aliens are getting a free college education in California, or anywhere else. The issue is that they are not legitimate residents of the state but they are getting a heavily subsidized education. A California court recently ruled that it was OK for illegal aliens, under some circumstances, to attend tax-supported institutions of higher education and pay in-state tuition, though they are not legal residents of the state. (Steven Camarota addresses the cost issue with regard to the DREAM Act in a new CIS Memorandum.)

So, as in straw man arguments generally, the lieutenant governor creates the image of a highly unattractive situation (which does not exist) and then says, with emphasis, that this is not the case. The lieutenant governor is all grown up, has been to college, and should know better.

The Bee story then goes on to discuss the president of the student body at Fresno State, an illegal alien named Pedro Ramirez, who says that he pays his $2,115 per semester tuition. The news article continues, "He noted that a portion of his tuition supports financial aid for other students. Ramirez isn't eligible for state or federal financial aid."

Ramirez has not yet graduated from college so his statement that his modest tuition payment "supports financial aid for other students" may be made out of sheer ignorance, or it may be an example of what I call chutzpah mathematics.

To provide a little background on the financing of higher education in Fresno State – something the Bee reporter failed to do – let's look at what it costs to spend a year there if you are from out of state, and have an unsubsidized education, and compare that to in-state costs, which reflect heavy tax-supported subsidies.

According to a website tracking state universities, in-state students at Fresno State pay no tuition but do pay, typically, $3,687 in fees; so do out-of-state students, but they also have to pay, typically, $10,170 a year in tuition, for a total of $13,857. It is safe to assume that the actual cost of providing this education is closer to the latter figure that to either the $3,687 typical cost to an in-state student or to Ramirez's $4,230 (for two semesters.)

In other words, since Ramirez, paying at $4,230 a year, is not covering more than a half of his own actual costs, it would be impossible for him to be the source of any financial support for other students, as he claims.

Let's hope that Ramirez' tuition mathematics is hype, and is not a reflection on the quality of the education provided by his alma mater.