Tuition Equality Act Would Let Undocumented Students Pay In-State Tuition Rates for College

By Senior Correspondent Desirée Taylor
NJ Today

Right now, undocumented students must payer higher out-of-state college tuition, but the Tuition Equality Act would allow them to pay cheaper in-state tuition rates if they graduate from a New Jersey high school. Bryan Velasco is among the thousands of students who would benefit from this proposed bill.

“It’s not like I am getting something for free because I’m actually going to pay and it will help me a lot, for me and my family. As many of you might know, I have to pay double and sometimes triple than a documented student would pay,” Velasco said.

This is creating an underclass says Assemblywoman Marlene Caride, one of the bill’s sponsors. And she believes this measure makes moral and fiscal sense.

“The reason that I was for and I am for this bill, is because we as citizens here in New Jersey invested millions of dollars in their education as it is right now, we may have public education from kindergarten through high school. If we’re going to see a return on our money, why not let them go to college and get a degree?” asked Caride.

But critics like Jeffrey Hastings, a member of New Jersey Citizens for Immigration Control, says this bill would increase taxes and create competition for limited space at New Jersey’s colleges and universities.

“All of sudden have people who have no papers, no documentation, give them a pass. What does that say to people who are trying to play by the rules?” asked Hastings.

But Udi Ofer, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, says 15 other states offer in-state tuition to undocumented residents and New Jersey should follow suit.

“The United States Supreme Court three decades ago said that undocumented students should have equal access to education. That’s what this bill would authorize. This bill would make sure undocumented students who grew up in New Jersey, contributed to the New Jersey culture and society, are treated equally,” Ofer said.

The Assembly Budget Committee approved this bill and another one that would allow students who are legal residents but have parents who are undocumented to be eligible for grants, scholarships and in-state tuition. Velasco hopes they both are signed into law so he can get the education he needs to pursue his career goals.

“My goal is to get higher education, become a physician … do something good, cuz eventually I will pay it back to the community,” Velasco said.

Democrats believe they have enough support to get both bills through the Assembly and Senate. The one stumbling block could be Gov. Chris Christie.