One Year After Tuition Equity, a Gap Still Needs to Be Filled

By Erika J. Nava and Gordon MacInnes

Tomorrow marks the one-year anniversary of the governor signing New Jersey’s Tuition Equity bill into law. Under it, the Garden State finally recognized that graduates of its high schools who are undocumented should have the same shot at a college education as their classmates. The governor remarked:

The most important thing is for these young men and women of our state, who we have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in their K-12 education, we’re now going to give them an opportunity in an affordable way to be able to continue their education.

The bill signing was delayed so that the legislature could accept the governor’s conditional veto of the section that also granted those students access to the state’s student financial aid like the Tuition Aid Grant. That excision turns out to have blunted realization of the bill’s purpose.

A quick look at Rutgers University, the state’s largest public university, illustrates why. For the Fall 2014 semester, the three campuses of Rutgers accepted 310 new students under the Tuition Equity law – but only 121 ended up enrolling, and lack of financial capacity was the principal reason. Thus, three out of five undocumented graduates who were qualified to attend the state’s flagship university could not. Even cutting their annual tuition costs in half – to about $14,000 from over $28,000 – was not enough to make college affordable.

NJPP has collected similar information for all of New Jersey’s public colleges and universities. Our forthcoming report to be released early next year will clearly show that there is still much to be done if striving students from struggling, low-income families are to be given a real shot at the middle class.

If the governor’s intention – to give striving young men and women an “affordable way to continue their education” – is to be realized, then he and the legislature must allow these students access to state student financial aid.