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Johnson, Caride, Quijano, Vainieri Huttle, Mosquera, Schaer, Wimberly, Greenwald & Prieto "Tuition Equality Act" Bill Clears Assembly Panel

Bill would allow certain college-bound NJ students to qualify for in-state tuition & state financial aid regardless of immigration status

(TRENTON) – Legislation 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 that would make undocumented students who want to attend a state college or university eligible for the in-state tuition rate and state financial aid was approved Thursday by an Assembly panel.

“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.

Democrats in the Legislature recognize the injustice in limiting opportunities for students who simply ask for the same financial resources availed to their counterparts, to help offset the high cost of college tuition. They are pushing ahead to bring tuition equality to New Jersey, despite the governor’s post-election change of heart on the issue. Just weeks before the election, the governor abandoned his former stance and expressed support for tuition equality. He changed his mind again after the election.

“Having to pay the out-of-state tuition rate might equal a rejection letter to a student of modest means. There is no benefit to restricting growth,” said Caride (D Bergen/Passaic). “Individuals with a college education can better contribute to our economy and society. Punishing young people who are undocumented by making it more expensive to attend college not only hurts them, it hurts us.”

“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.”

“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.”

Under the bill, a student who meets the above requirements for in-state tuition eligibility is also eligible to apply for, and participate in, 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 the state student assistance programs.

“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 was approved 8-4 by the Assembly Budget Education.