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Assembly Panel Advances Fuentes Bill to Waive College Tuition Costs for Domestic Violence Victims Forced to Leave School

An Assembly panel on Monday approved legislation sponsored by Assemblyman Angel Fuentes to waive tuition costs for victims who are forced to take a leave from college due to a domestic violence incident.

“In addition to the physical and mental trauma, there are so many complicated factors that victims of domestic violence must deal with,” said Fuentes (D-Camden/Gloucester). “Despite their wishes, sometimes college must be put on the backburner while they cope with the trauma and pursue legal recourse. This measure would help them pick up the pieces and move on when they are ready.”

The bill (A-1122) would establish the “Domestic Violence Tuition Abatement Program” to provide a waiver of all tuition costs to documented victims of domestic violence, who as a result of the violence, became unable to complete college coursework for which tuition costs had been paid. The New Jersey Higher Education Student Assistance Authority (HESAA) would be in charge of establishing the program.

Under the bill, “documented victim of domestic violence” means a person who is a victim of domestic violence as defined under the “Prevention of Domestic Violence Act of 1991,” who (1) has obtained a permanent restraining order against a defendant; (2) has obtained a statement from the office of the county prosecutor that the person is cooperating with the investigating authority in any investigation or prosecution involving a domestic violence offense in which the person is the alleged victim whether or not a temporary restraining order or a criminal conviction has as yet been obtained.

A person is eligible to qualify for the program if certain enumerated criteria are met, which are:

1) at the time of applying for the waiver, the person is qualified for admission to a New Jersey public institution of higher education or county vocational school;

2) the person is a documented victim of domestic violence;

3) within two years from the date of occurrence of the act of domestic violence for which they are a documented victim, the person is seeking to reenroll in the same or substantially similar course of study that they were enrolled in at the time of the domestic violence occurrence, which resulted in their inability to complete the course;

4) the person submits affidavit evidence and other evidence tending to support the claim that as a result of the act of domestic violence, they were unable to complete the course or courses for which they seek a tuition abatement;

5) the person submits affidavit evidence and other evidence tending to support the claim that as they are currently or for the time period contemplated, able to complete the course or courses for which they seek reenrollment.

HESAA would be charged with determining whether the applicant meets the program requirements. If the requirements are met, HESAA would notify the appropriate college, university or county vocational school that the person qualifies for a tuition waiver.

Eligibility under the program is limited to two years from the date the applicant applied for a tuition waiver. No applicant shall be granted more than one tuition abatement under the bill.

The measure was approved by the Assembly Judiciary Committee and now awaits consideration by the full Assembly.