Assembly Panel Advances Bills To Let Students Pay In-State Tuition Regardless Of Immigration Status

TRENTON – A two-bill legislative package sponsored by Assembly Democrats that would 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) 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 of their parents’  immigration status, to pay the in-state tuition rate, while the second bill (A-4225) 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 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 Assemblyman Gordon Johnson (D-Bergen/Hudson), a sponsor of both bills. “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.

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 documented 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 Assemblywoman Annette Quijano (D- Union), a sponsor of the Tuition Equality Act. “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.”

Both bills were released by the Assembly Budget Committee.

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