For Tuition Equity to Work Best, It Must Include Access to State Aid

Contact: Jon Whiten, NJPP, whiten (at) or 917.655.3313 (cell)

Advocates, students and policy experts will come together today to urge New Jersey policymakers to enact strong tuition equity legislation that would enable undocumented residents to pay in-state tuition rates at public colleges and universities and allow those students to apply for state financial aid. This policy – detailed in a new Issue Brief released today by New Jersey Policy Perspective – is an important step towards fixing a broken immigration system and allowing greater economic opportunity for striving New Jersey students.

The groups will hold a Statehouse press conference in advance of the Senate Budget Committee’s consideration of S-2479 to highlight the importance of the issue.

“Without tuition equity and access to financial aid, the door to higher education and a brighter future will likely remain closed to many undocumented New Jerseyans,” says Erika J. Nava, a policy analyst at New Jersey Policy Perspective and author of the Issue Brief. “New Jersey’s lawmakers have a clear choice: Allow these striving immigrants to become integrated into the social and economic fabric of the state, or continue to force them to live in the shadows without the ability to fully contribute to New Jersey’s well-being. New Jersey has the chance here to take a step ahead of many other states by having a common-sense approach to incorporating its immigrant population. All of New Jersey – students, families, public colleges, the economy, taxpayers and future residents – stands to benefit from this policy.”

Currently, 18 other states offer tuition equity of some kind to undocumented students; 15 do it through state legislation while three states offer more limited equity via educational governing bodies.

“All New Jersey students deserve equal access to an education, regardless of their immigration status,” says Udi Ofer, executive director of the ACLU of New Jersey. “Yet in our state today, undocumented students who know no other home than New Jersey are treated like strangers and forced to pay more than twice the rate of tuition to attend our public colleges and universities, while receiving no financial aid. It’s time for New Jersey to recognize the achievements of all of our state’s hardworking students by providing in-state tuition with opportunities to apply for state aid. Access to college should be based on merit, and not immigration status.”

Three states – California, New Mexico and Texas – also allow undocumented students to access state financial aid – a crucial element of tuition equity. Without it, even at in-state rates a college education remains out of reach to many undocumented families, most of which earn far less than the average New Jersey family.

Tuition equity is, at its core, about expanding economic opportunity to striving New Jersey students who – through no fault of their own – are undocumented and often lower-income.

“We have heard stories of young people who think college or university education is out of reach because of their undocumented status and family income,” says Chia-Chia Wang, the civic participation coordinator with the American Friends Service Committee’s Newark-based Immigrant Rights Program. “If passed, New Jersey’s tuition equity policy would alleviate those fear and inequalities, and support our youth in pursuing better future and stay proudly in New Jersey.”

New Jersey taxpayers have already invested heavily in the education of many of these students; pulling the plug on that investment before it has the chance to return the greatest dividend for the Garden State makes little sense.

Tuition equity was first introduced in the state legislature in 2003; had it passed then, New Jersey would have been the third state – after California and Texas – to have the policy. In the decade since, as the Garden State has failed to act, we’ve seen over a dozen other states embrace tuition equity. It is clear that New Jersey needs to act now.

“Students have waited far too long for the equality of access that the New Jersey DREAM Act would provide,” says Marios Athanasiou, president of New Jersey United Students. “This is not just an issue that affects individuals; it is a matter of concern for the future of our society and generations to come. We have the opportunity to ensure that an affordable, accessible, quality education – and aid towards that education – is available to all students throughout New Jersey. The time is now, the place is here: Let’s pass the New Jersey DREAM Act.”

Providing tuition equity with access to aid in New Jersey would allow undocumented students to earn better livings, contribute more to our tax system and remain gainfully employed. In addition, it would allow these students to have longer career paths and job flexibility. New Jersey – with the third-highest share of foreign-born residents (after California and Texas) and fifth-highest total number of undocumented residents – would greatly benefit from tuition equity.

“It has been a long road – with a few more milestones yet to go – to have this bill signed into law, but we all know this: The more we invest in students, the better our state becomes. When we help lift even one of us, our whole village rises,” says Giancarlo Tello, an undocumented student leader of the New Jersey DREAM Act Coalition. “I look forward to the legislature putting the best possible bill on the governor’s desk, and to him standing by his stated commitment to equality and making the dream a reality.”

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