PREPARED TESTIMONY OF ERIKA J. NAVA, POLICY ANALYST
BEFORE THE ASSEMBLY BUDGET COMMITTEE, DECEMBER 12, 2013
Thank you for holding this hearing and for including access to financial aid in this bill. Without this provision, access to higher education and a brighter future will likely remain closed to many undocumented New Jerseyans, as in-state rates for a full college education remain out-of-reach for low- and moderate-income families, particularly when one adds fees and other costs. Without this provision, the legislation would fail to live up to its name of “tuition equality.”
Lets look at the facts. Texas – one of the three states that offers in-state tuition rates and state financial aid to undocumented students who meet the requirements – has created a culture of achievement for undocumented students instead of forcing them to enter low-wage jobs that will keep them shut out of the middle-class.
Each year, enrollment is increasing as undocumented students begin to see higher education as a real possibility that is within their reach. But even with enrollment among undocumented students increasing by 40 percent from 2009 to 2012, these students only make up about one percent of Texas’ overall student enrollment. Likewise, the share of undocumented students receiving state financial aid is also about one percent of the total.
Of the 20,000 undocumented Texans enrolling, about 70 percent attend community or technical colleges, about 30 percent attend public four-year colleges and universities.
New Jersey’s undocumented students are your neighbors; they attend public school with your children; and their families pay taxes just like yours does. To continue to shut the door to a brighter future by failing to combine in-state tuition with eligibility for state student financial aid for these residents makes no economic or moral sense.
Take the prospects for an undocumented student graduating from Dickinson High in Jersey City (at a potential cost of $300,000 to New Jersey taxpayers). She wants to attend New Jersey City University, which would cost over $10,000 a year for tuition and fees at in-state rates, and that’s before any books are bought or commuting costs included. Yes, that’s a better deal than the $19,000 annual cost of out-of-state rates, but it is still beyond the reach of most undocumented families, who earn far less than the rest of us. To deny access to the state’s student financial aid programs is effectively saying to this striving student “forget about college.”
The opportunity is here: to stoke a real culture of opportunity and achievement for New Jersey’s undocumented students; to help integrate them into the state’s social fabric and economy; to break the cycle of low-wage dead-end employment; and to reduce the risk of creating a permanent underclass. For undocumented New Jerseyans to earn better livings, contribute more to our tax system and remain gainfully employed, they need the ability to access higher education. And they need both tuition equity and access to aid to do so.
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