If Tuition Equity Works for Oklahoma, What’s the Holdup in New Jersey?

Cross-posted at NJPP.org and written by our policy intern Erika J. Nava.

Here’s a pop quiz, Blue Jersey: Which of these states have in-state tuition laws for undocumented students? Utah, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas or New Jersey?

The answer and a whole lot more are after the jump.

“Can you think of any culture, any country, anyone who benefited from narrowing the opening of the schoolhouse doors?”

– Republican Representative Kay McIff of Utah

Here’s a pop quiz: Which of these states have in-state tuition laws for undocumented students? Utah, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas or New Jersey?

The answer might surprise those who think of New Jersey as a deep blue state leading the charge on progressive issues: All of them except New Jersey have implemented this common-sense policy. The five aforementioned states are some of the reddest of red states, led by Republican governors and conservative legislatures, yet they have come to the conclusion – like 10 other states – that providing an affordable higher education to their undocumented students is a smart investment.  

It’s time New Jersey get with the program. Tuition equity legislation was first introduced in the Garden State in 2003 – a decade ago. Yet here we are in 2013, and our legislators are still debating the policy. Meanwhile, the state’s large undocumented population (New Jersey has the second-highest share of undocumented residents of the 35 states without tuition equity) can only sit and wonder why their counterparts in deeply conservative states are receiving better opportunities – particularly when New Jersey invests so much more than most states in providing free K-12 public education to all of its students, including the undocumented. In order for our investment to have the greatest return, we need to see it through to the end. A high-quality education does not end after high school, and neither should our commitment to New Jersey’s students.

The benefit of offering in-state tuition rates to undocumented students is clear, as NJPP outlined in an Issue Brief last week, so why is the road towards implementing this sound policy in New Jersey so riddled with detours?

After the Assembly Budget Committee advanced legislation that would equal the tuition playing field for undocumented New Jersey students on June 17, the bill was posted to the Assembly schedule for a vote on June 24. But it was pulled from the session, diminishing the dreams of many students who were brought to New Jersey through no fault of their own and now are stuck in limbo. Meanwhile, the Senate Education Committee is on schedule to hear its own tuition equity bill (S-2479) this Thursday. The Senate bill – which was introduced back in January – includes access to financial aid for undocumented students, which the Assembly handled in a separate bill that’s also cleared the committee.

It’s clear the legislature cannot wrap up its work on tuition equity by the time this session ends on June 30. There is simply not enough time. We hope that legislators can take time out of their vacation and campaign schedules later this summer to come back to Trenton and tackle this crucial issue. Since the legislature failed to act this session, New Jersey’s striving undocumented students will have to wait at least another semester to have access to an affordable college education. Let’s not make them wait any longer.

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