BY SANDRA RIANO
Governor Chris Christie signed into law, the Tuition Equality Act (S2479) on Dec. 20 in Union City. This law allows undocumented students to pay a significantly less expensive tuition rate so that they can afford their education.
New Jersey became the 17th state to allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition rates as long as they attended a New Jersey high school for three or more years, graduated or passed a General Education Development test (GED), and filed an affidavit that states that they will seek immigration status as soon as it’s available to them. New York, Texas, California and Oregon are some of the other states that already have similar legislation in effect. Christie’s only stipulation with the bill was that the section allowing state financial aid be removed. Even without financial support from the state, this bill is a great accomplishment and will grant undocumented students the opportunity to achieve the goals they never imagined possible.
To put into perspective the massive difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition rates, consider a three-credit course at County College of Morris, which costs $414 at the in-state tuition rate for the upcoming summer semester, according to the CCM website. For an undocumented student, that same three-credit course would cost $1,074, which is more than 2.5 times more expensive. A student that pays their tuition at the in-state rate can take five three-credit courses at a cost of $2,070 while an undocumented student would pay $2,148 to take only two courses.
Undocumented students are considered “international students” and therefore qualify for the extreme out-of-state rates. The harsh reality of this is that the majority of undocumented students have lived here for most of their lives and consider themselves to be New Jerseyans. The state has supported them through their K-12 education and it’s senseless to cut them off from their dreams at a higher education.
Unfortunately, due to the timing of the bill, near the holiday break, the CCM board could not meet in time for a policy to be put into place for the beginning of the spring semester. According to the Office of Student Development, the policy is now in place and CCM will be refunding the differences in tuition paid for the spring semester by undocumented students. In order to receive the refund, a student must bring in their high school transcripts, a work authorization card (if applicable) and must sign the aforementioned affidavit.
The first draft of this bill was introduced in 2003. Christie’s decision finally puts an end to the decade-long battle for tuition equality.
The slogan of the United Negro College Fund accurately summarizes this issue of minorities being unable to continue their education: “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.”