October 21, 2013

The Princeton Human Services Commission (PHSC), at its October 16 meeting,
adopted a resolution supporting bills A4225, A3162 and S2479, which are
now before the Assembly and Senate Budget Committees of the New Jersey
legislature. This legislation will provide in-state tuition to students who have
attended high school in New Jersey for at least three years and graduated,
who are legally present, or intend to regularize their immigration status as soon
as possible. It would also enable US citizen and permanent resident students
to access financial aid for which they otherwise qualify, regardless of the
immigration status of their parents. Currently the State administers financial aid
such that these US citizens and permanent residents are denied aid at State
institutions of higher learning.

A number of Princeton high school students and families appeared before the
Commission, telling their poignant individual stories of hardship resulting from
having to pay out-of-state tuition, and from knowing that it will be difficult to
secure financial aid even though they are citizens. Out-of-state tuition at the
State’s universities and community colleges is 2-3 times as high as in-state
tuition. For example, this year at Rutgers, out-of-state tuition is $27,500 versus
$13,500 in-state. These students have spent many years in Princeton’s schools,
only to see a discriminatory barrier placed in front of them as they strive to
continue their education, while their classmates face no such hardship.

One mother, speaking in Spanish with English translation provided by PHSC
Executive Director, Elisa Neira, gave an emotional and tearful statement
speaking of her family’s reasons for moving to America which most importantly
centered around their desire to create greater opportunities for their children.
She lamented that her children now find it difficult to access higher education at
quality institutions because of the very high costs relative to their neighbors.

College admission for all students will still be based on academic performance,
community service, leadership experience and extracurricular activities. It was
pointed out that college educated people earn much more over their lifetimes,
and thus pay much higher taxes to the state, than those without a college
degree. The NJ Office of Legislative Services has stated that there would be “no
impact on State revenues or expenditures” from passage of the Tuition Equality
Act; but that there could be a small increase in State costs for financial aid.

Fifteen states, regardless of Republican or Democratic leadership, have already
passed similar bills: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland,
Minnesota, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Utah,
and Washington State.

During this past summer, Ross Wishnick, Commission Chair; John Heilner, Chair
of the PHSC Subcommittee on Immigration Issues; and other PHSC members
called on NJ District 16 and other NJ legislators, as well as members of the NJ
Assembly Education Committee staff, to support the bills.

In drafting the resolution and meeting with legislators, the PHSC received
valuable support from Kip Cherry, a community activist, and Maria Juega,
Executive Director of the Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund

Any questions should be directed to Elisa Neira (609-688-2055) or John Heilner