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.
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 equalizing factors in this country is education. Students who attend our K-12 system should have the same opportunity as their peers to attend college, regardless of their documentation,” said Senator Ruiz (D-Essex). “This legislation is about equality and fairness, and it’s about who were are in the state of New Jersey. As we work to build a stronger workforce and ensure our state is competitive in a 21st Century economy, college accessibility and affordability for all New Jersey students must be part of the equation.”
“DREAMers are New Jerseyans in every way,” said Senator Pou (D-Passaic and Bergen). “Allowing these students to pay in-state tuition rates and to apply for financial aid will give them the ability to go to college, earn a good living and to contribute 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.”
“These young people have attended New Jersey schools, many of them from kindergarten through graduation. It makes no sense to invest in their education during these years, and then slam the door on their dreams of obtaining a higher education,” said Senator Cunningham (D-Hudson). “Providing equal access to college will allow them to get good-paying jobs and to 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 Senate approved the legislation by a vote of 25-12.