Assembly Panel Approves Schaer, Johnson, Prieto & Quijano Bill Granting “Dreamers” Access to State Financial Aid

Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Gary Schaer, Gordon Johnson, Speaker Vincent Prieto and Annette Quijano to make higher education an attainable reality for undocumented students in New Jersey was advanced by an Assembly panel on Thursday.

Under the bill (A-3617), a student who meets the requirements established under the “Tuition Equality Act” enacted last year is eligible to apply for, and participate in, any student financial aid program administered by the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority (HESSA) or the Secretary of Higher Education.

“This is the other piece of the puzzle if we really want to help these students succeed and contribute to society,” said Schaer (D-Bergen/Passaic). “Given the ever-escalating costs, many students, even with in-state tuition rates, are finding college more and more financially unattainable. Making this assistance available will make higher education a reality for these aspiring students.”

“Many of these students have dreamt about going to college their whole life, only to find out they weren’t eligible for the same opportunities as their peers,” said Johnson (D-Bergen). “In order to really put higher education within reach for them, they need a fair shot at financial assistance just like the many other residents of this state who wouldn’t be able to afford college otherwise.”

“This is about giving young people, who were brought here through no fault of their own, the opportunity at a better life,” said Prieto (D-Bergen/Hudson). “In this economy, with the ever-increasing cost of tuition, college is becoming more elusive for students of all backgrounds. Financial aid is often the deciding factor in whether they can pursue higher education.”

“This bill will help keep the dream alive so that these bright, young students can go on to become productive members of society,” said Quijano (D-Union). “Most of these students were brought here so that their parents could give them opportunities they never had. College is the final stepping stone to that dream and financial assistance is crucial to attaining it.”

Currently, a student, including a student without legal immigration status, is allowed to pay the resident tuition rate at the state’s public institutions of higher education if the student meets the following requirements: (1) attended high school in New Jersey for three or more years; (2) graduated from a high school in this state or received the equivalent of a high school diploma in the state; (3) 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; and (4) 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.

This bill directs HESSA and the Secretary of Higher Education to establish procedures and forms that enable these students to apply for, and participate in, the state student financial assistance programs. These procedures and forms will be posted on the websites of the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority and the Office of the Secretary of Higher Education.

Existing federal law permits a state to make an individual without lawful immigration status eligible for a state or local public benefit for which that person would otherwise be ineligible under federal law only through the enactment of a state law that affirmatively provides for such eligibility.

The bill was approved by the Assembly Budget Committee.