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NJ Would Become 17th State To Provide Tuition Equality, Regardless of Immigration Status

TRENTON – Legislation to allow New Jersey DREAMers – young people who are undocumented but were brought to the United States as children – to pay in-state tuition rates at the state’s higher education institutions and to qualify for state financial aid was approved today by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.

Sponsored by Senate Education Chair M. Teresa Ruiz, Legislative Latino Caucus Chair Nellie Pou, Higher Education Chair Sandra Cunningham and Senate President Steve Sweeney, the bill is intended to provide higher education opportunities to young people, which will strengthen the state’s future workforce and its economy. The legislation would make New Jersey the 17th state in the nation to provide college access to undocumented students by allowing them to qualify for in-state tuition rates.

“One of the greatest factors that we know will create a level playing field for our residents is access to a quality education. Students who attend a New Jersey high school and are accepted to a college in this state should be provided the same opportunity for a higher education as their peers,” said Senator Ruiz (D-Essex). “This legislation is about equality and fairness. It will ensure that all New Jersey students have a chance for a successful future, regardless of documentation. It will also help to build a strong and educated workforce and ensure that as we move our state forward, we are not leaving a population of hard-working and motivated New Jerseyans behind.”

“These young people are part of the fabric of New Jersey, and they are the future of our state,” said Senator Pou (D-Passaic and Bergen). “Allowing them to pay in-state tuition rates and to apply for financial aid will give them the ability to pursue their dreams of going to college, earning a good living and contributing to the shared goal of creating a better New Jersey for all residents. This is the right thing to do from both a moral and economic perspective. It will make certain that all of our young people are given the chance to reach their potential and to make a positive impact in our state.”

“Affording DREAMers an opportunity to attend college, equal to that which is enjoyed by their peers, is a way to ensure they become successful, dignified and productive members of our society,” said Senator Cunningham (D-Hudson). “This is in the best interest of everyone in this state. It will not only benefit the students and their families, but will contribute to a stronger and more prosperous New Jersey.”

“Higher education is the best pathway to achieving the American Dream. The DREAM Act is aptly named,” said Senate President Sweeney. “We have a crisis in terms of college affordability and student debt. Higher education cannot continue to be a luxury. College is an economic necessity and every family in New Jersey should be able to afford it. Every family. This legislation will allow every child the opportunity to achieve the American Dream.”

The bill (S-2479) will allow a student, including a student without documentation, to pay in-State tuition at the State’s public institutions of higher education, and to participate in state financial aid programs administered by the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority (HESAA) and the Secretary of Higher Education, if the student:

  • 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 documentation, 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.

Currently, 16 states have provisions allowing in-state tuition rates for undocumented students. Fourteen states provide these rates through state legislation: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Texas, Utah, and Washington. Oklahoma and Rhode Island allow in-state tuition rates to undocumented students through Board of Regents decisions.

The bill would take effect immediately. Eligibility for student financial aid programs would take effect in the 2014-2015 academic year. The committee approved the legislation by a vote of 8-3-1. It now heads to the full Senate for consideration.

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