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Assembly Democratic "Tuition Equality Act" Bill Gets Final Legislative Approval, Heads to Governor’s Desk; while "Higher Education Citizenship Equality Act" Bill Clears Assembly

Sponsored by Johnson, Caride, Quijano, Vainieri Huttle, Mosquera, Schaer, Wimberly, Greenwald, Prieto, Fuentes, Ramos, Connors & Jimenez, bills would provide educational opportunity currently being denied to some New Jersey students because of immigration status

(TRENTON) – The General Assembly on Thursday approved a pair of bills sponsored by Assembly Democrats that would place merit over immigration status, and make New Jersey students who want to attend a state college or university eligible for in-state tuition and state financial aid regardless of their immigration status or that of their parents, as long as they meet certain provisions.

The first bill (A-4225), sponsored by Assembly Democrats Gordon Johnson, Marlene Caride, Annette Quijano, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Gabriela Mosquera, Gary Schaer, Benjie Wimberly, Lou Greenwald and Speaker-elect Vincent Prieto would make undocumented students in New Jersey who want to attend a state college or university eligible for the in-state tuition rate and state financial aid.

The bill (A-4225), referred to as the “Tuition Equality Act,” was approved by the Senate last month. It was approved 46-32-2 by the Assembly on Thursday and now heads to the governor’s desk.

“These young people are already here. Many of them know no other home or country but the United States. Many have gone through our public education system and now want to further their education,” said Johnson (D-Bergen/Hudson). “The state of New Jersey should not be in the business of throwing up obstacles for young people who are ambitious and aspire to do and become better.

The second bill (A-3162), sponsored by Caride, Johnson, Assemblyman Angel Fuentes, Assemblyman Ruben J. Ramos, Jr., Assemblyman Sean Connors, Assemblywoman Angelica Jimenez, Schaer and Greenwald and named the “Higher Education Citizenship Equality Act,” would make New Jersey residents who were born in this country eligible for the resident undergraduate tuition rate and other state aid they would otherwise be ineligible for because of their parents’ immigration status.

The bill (A-3162) was approved 70-9 by the Assembly and now heads to the Senate for further consideration.

The inability to qualify is due to the fact that the student is considered a dependent student because he or she is under 24 years of age, and eligibility for state student assistance or the in-state tuition rate for dependent students is determined by the domicile status of their parents.

The parents of these students are unable to establish domicile in New Jersey either because they do not have legal status in this country or they entered the country on a nonimmigrant visa.

“These students, who are U.S. citizens, have the same constitutional rights as all U.S. citizens. They have no less a right to in-state tuition, as well as tuition assistance than any other New Jersey resident or American citizen,” said Caride (D-Bergen/Passaic). “In the case of young people who were brought here as children by parents looking for a better life; they should not be punished and should be given the opportunity to pay in-state tuition, if they want to attend college here. They will contribute to our economy and society by obtaining better jobs which would provide more taxable income.”

“Regardless of where you stand on immigration, the reality is these students are here. They have been here, attended school here and now want to attend college here and earn a degree,” said Quijano (D-Union). “We should be making higher education more accessible to all young people, not less. Let’s not deny these students the opportunity to achieve their version of the American dream.”

“We’re not talking about a small difference here, but thousands of dollars. In some cases, tuition can cost twice as much for out-of-state students as for in-state students,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “Instead of working to close doors for students who want to pursue higher education and excel, we should be focusing our energies on how to help them get there.”

The bill (A-4225) would allow a student, including a student without lawful immigration status, to pay the in-state tuition at the state’s public institutions of higher education, and apply for any available state financial aid, if the student meets the following requirements:

  • attended high school in this state for three or more years;
  • graduated from a high school in this state or attained the equivalent of a high school diploma in the state;
  • registers as an entering student or is currently enrolled in a public institution of higher education not earlier than the fall semester of the 2013-2014 academic year;
  • in the case of a person without lawful immigration status, files an affidavit with the institution of higher education stating that the student has filed an application to legalize his immigration status or will file an application as soon as he is eligible to do so.

“These students are not asking for anything more than what is already offered to young people who live here and want to attend one of our higher education institutions,” said Mosquera (D-Camden/Gloucester). “Not everyone can afford to pay an out-of-state tuition. If they meet the criteria set by the bill, then let them pay the in-state tuition rate. The alternative doesn’t help them or the state.”

“There is a sizable difference between what we ask New Jersey students and students from other states to pay if they want to attend college here” said Schaer (D-Bergen/Passaic). “Ever increasing tuition rates are making it more and more difficult for students to afford college. Let’s not exacerbate the problem by further limiting our students over their immigration status.”

Under (A-4225), a student who meets the above requirements for in-state tuition eligibility is also eligible to apply for any student financial aid program administered by the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority or the Secretary of Higher Education. The bill directs the authority and the secretary to establish procedures and forms that enable these students to apply for these programs.

“Most of these kids did not come to this country on their own. Some of them may have been unaware of their immigration status until they became old enough to understand the restrictions that come with it,” said Wimberly (D-Passaic/Bergen). “Making them pay a higher cost for a college education that is already expensive as it is because of a situation beyond their control is just wrong.”

“These students are potentially the next generation of leaders,” said Greenwald (D-Camden/Burlington). “We lose many of our students to colleges outside the state. These young people want to study, but that may not be an option if they are forced to pay out-of-state rates. If they meet the requirements of these bills, there is no reason why we should not support their academic aspirations.”

“We support these students through their primary and secondary school years, but when they reach college, when they actually have to pay for their education, we tell them they don’t deserve our help,” said Prieto (D-Bergen/Hudson). “They are not asking for a free ride. They are asking for the chance to apply for the same assistance that the friends they graduated with are benefitting from.”

The bill (A-3162) provides that a dependent student is domiciled in the state and therefore eligible for the resident undergraduate tuition rate, if the student (1) is an United States citizen; and (2) the student and his or her parents have lived in New Jersey for not less than 12 consecutive months preceding the academic period for which state student assistance is being requested, or in the case of the undergraduate tuition rates, 12 consecutive months before first enrolling in a public institution.

In order to establish residency and therefore be eligible for state student loans, grants and scholarships, a dependent student must meet the provisions required for resident undergraduate tuition rate eligibility. In addition, a student’s parent or guardian must also provide the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority, as part of the eligibility requirements, with documentation that the parent or guardian has filed a state and federal income tax return, or has had income tax withheld.

“This is a terrible catch-22 for these students. We don’t know the circumstances that led their parents to remain in the country illegally, but we do know that these students are American citizens who live in New Jersey and want to attend college,” said Fuentes (D-Camden/Gloucester). “This bill ensures that they can take advantage of the tuition rates they are entitled to as New Jersey residents.”

“For some of these families, the difference between the in-state and out-of-state tuition rate could be the deciding factor in whether or not their son or daughter gets to attend college,” said Ramos (D-Hudson). “It is incredibly unfair to saddle students, who have done nothing wrong and want to earn a college degree, with higher tuition expenses because of the decisions made by their parents.”

“Young people often get a bad rap for lacking ambition. Here we have students who want to prosper and go to college, but we’re telling them that it is going to cost them extra even though as residents of this state they are entitled to lower tuition costs,” said Connors (D-Hudson). “Instead of dashing dreams, let’s help build up our young people. The future of our state depends on it.”

“College is very expensive. For many students, the in-state tuition rate offered by state colleges is the only thing that makes a post-secondary education possible,” said Jimenez (D-Bergen/Hudson). “These kids were born here and live in the state. They want to go to school here and become productive members of society. I don’t see why we would turn our backs on such lofty ambitions.”