TRENTON – The Assembly Budget and Appropriations Committee advanced a bill affording immigrants in-state college tuition rates. The bill passed 8-4 along party lines.
A4225 allows a student, including a student without lawful immigration status, to pay in-state tuition at the state’s public colleges and universities.
Criteria would include having attended a New Jersey high school for three years or more; having graduated from a high school in the state or attained the equivalent of a high school diploma in the state; and having filed an affidavit with the school 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.
Numerous supporters told stories of the challenges they faced seeking affordable higher education in New Jersey. They said that the students allowed to benefit from this change would pump millions of dollars into the state’s economy as well as gain an education that can improve their quality of life.
The supporters, from places as far-ranging as Peru, St. Martin, the Dominican Republic and elsewhere, said the state is losing students to other states’ schools and creating a lower-educated class of workers as a result of not having access to this in-state benefit.
Lack of the green card keeps these students from qualifying for various types of grants and other aid, the committee was told.
One witness quantified the issue: Can someone contribute more to the economy as a bartender or as an attorney?
Sid Wilson of the Bergen County Community College board of trustees said the school backs the legislation. Take a classroom with 13 students, then add one undocumented student, the teacher is paid the same, he said. “The cost doesn’t change,’’ he said.
“It’s important for New Jersey’s businesses,’’ he said, because they want to hire their students.
“Two out of our last three valedictorians were undocumented students,’’ he told the lawmakers.
However, Assemblyman Jay Webber said that four-year schools are telling lawmakers of limited capacity.
And Assemblyman Chris Brown said the way the bill is written it would allow other states’ residents to stay here three years and get the in-state rate as well.
But Assemblyman Gordon Johnson pointed out that the bill says beneficiaries would have to attend a high school here and it has other elements to make it New Jersey-centric. But Webber said there are New York residents whose children cross the border to attend New Jersey schools now.
The panel was told that presidents of all colleges have signed a letter supporting the bill.
Webber said this was not an easy bill to cast a vote on. He lauded the supporters, but said this bill has problems, including being open to out-of-state residents, having non-N.J. citizens paying a higher tuition than in-state undocumented residents would have to pay, and it lacks an enforcement mechanism because he doubts schools will follow through.
But John Burzichelli said this state can afford to educate its students and he said the regulatory issues can be worked through.