In-state tuition for undocumented students bill clears Senate panel

TRENTON – The Senate Higher Education Committee took up the issue Thursday of allowing lower, in-state tuition to college students who lack lawful immigration status. The bill passed 3-0-1 with Sen. Thomas Kean abstaining for now.

The supporters champion it as a matter of educational fairness and economic opportunity.  Opponents claim it is a matter of unfairness to N.J. resident students who already have to fight to gain entry to four-year schools that have limited capacity.

Among other things, the bill says that a student must have attended high school in New Jersey for at least three years, graduated from a N.J. high school, and they must submit an affidavit of intending to seek citizenship.

Sponsor Sen. Teresa Ruiz, (D-29), Newark, said that when she first ran for office education equity was one of her cornerstone concerns.

“Having access to quality education is the greatest equalizing factor that we have,’’ Ruiz said.  And later she said that “We have to have a truthful conversation about who we are in this country,” recognizing the country has a growing diversity in its population and recognizing that not all of those people are being given the same educational opportunity.

And co-sponsor Sen. Nellie Pou, (D-36), Paterson, said “It is a matter of doing the right thing.  It is a matter of fairness.”

Sue Henderson, president of Jersey City University, said in support that 88,000 N.J. students who are not citizens will be affected by this bill. The in-state rate is $7,500 while the out-of-state tuition rate is $15,000, she said, and she added that passing this bill will benefit the state by reducing incarceration rates, enhancing work forces and improving earnings potential for students.

And Sid Wilson, trustees board vice president at Bergen County Community College, said the colleges support in-state tuition for undocumented students in part because they are always seeking ways to get more students into their classrooms.

Support also came from various labor union and advocacy groups including the N.J. Catholic Conference, Democrats for Education Reform and N.J. United Students who championed the strength of a country built through diversity and the importance of education to that process.

“We need to open doors to these people,’’ said Seth Hahn of the Communications Workers of America.

Sen. Thomas Kean, (R-21), Westfield said that the bill affects approximately a half a billion dollars in state aid amounts and because of its financial component he asked whether it would proceed through the budget committee and was told it would.

In-state tuition for undocumented students bill clears Senate panel