Bills are sponsored by Caride, Johnson, Fuentes, Ramos, Connors, Jimenez, Schaer, Quijano, Vainieri Huttle, Mosquera, Wimberly and Greenwald (TRENTON) - A two-bill legislative package sponsored by Assembly Democrats Marlene Caride, Gordon Johnson, Angel Fuentes, Ruben Ramos, Sean Connors, Angelica Jimenez, Gary Schaer and Valerie Vainieri Huttle to allow New Jersey students planning to attend a state college or university to pay in-state tuition costs despite of their immigration status or that of their parents as long as they meet certain requirements was released Monday by the Assembly Budget Committee.
The first bill (A-3162) - sponsored by Caride, Johnson, Fuentes, Ramos, Connors, Jimenez and Schaer - would allow students who are U.S. citizens and New Jersey residents and want to attend a public college or university in New Jersey, but don't qualify for the in-state tuition rate because their parents do not have legal immigration status, to pay the in-state tuition rate, while the second bill (A-4225) - sponsored by Johnson, Caride, Quijano, Vainieri Huttle, Mosquera, Schaer, Wimberly and Greenwald - would allow college-bound students who live in New Jersey, but must pay the out-of-state tuition rate because they lack the proper immigration status, to pay the in-state tuition rate.
"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."
"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 first bill (A-3162), referred to as the "Higher Education Citizenship Equality Act", addresses the difficult situation that faces some students who were born in the United States and are therefore citizens of this country, and are New Jersey residents but are unable to qualify for state student tuition assistance programs or the in-state undergraduate tuition rate.
These students don't qualify because since they are under 24 years of age, they are considered dependent students, and eligibility for state student assistance or the in-state tuition rate for dependent students is determined by the domicile status of their parents, who are unable to establish residency in the state because they don't have legal status or they entered the country on a nonimmigrant visa.
"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."
"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 or their parents' immigration status."
The bill provides that a dependent student is domiciled in the state and hence eligible for a state student loan, grant, or scholarship, as well as the in-state undergraduate tuition rate if the student:
- is a United States citizen;
- has resided in New Jersey for a period of not less than 12 consecutive months immediately prior to the academic period for which state student assistance is being requested or, in the case of the undergraduate tuition rate, 12 consecutive months before first enrolling in a public institution; and
- in the case of a county college student, resides in the county sponsoring the college before first enrolling at the college.
The second bill (A-4225), referred to as the "Tuition Equality Act, would allow a student, including a student without lawful immigration status, to pay in-state tuition at the state's public institutions of higher education if the student meets the following criteria:
- Attended a high school in this state for three years or more;
- 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; and
- Files an affidavit with the institution of higher education stating that the student has filed an application to legalize immigration status or will file an application as soon as he or she is eligible to do so.
"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 the case of commuters, tuition can cost twice as much for out-of-state students as for in-state students," said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). "To force a student who has known no other home but New Jersey to pay twice as much in tuition because of circumstances they did not create just doesn't make sense."
"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."
"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."
Both bills were released by the Assembly Budget Committee.