Guest blog: Christie’s shameless bait and switch kills the dream of college equity for young people

Linda Stamato
Linda Stamato

By Linda Stamato

On December 5th, a guest blog, “Tuition Equity: Keeping Promises and Doing the Right Thing,” made the case that all state residents should be treated equally with respect to tuition and fees at public colleges and universities in New Jersey.  (Practices vary but, with few exceptions, so-called undocumented students, although they are residents of the state, have been paying “out of state” tuition rates if their parents entered the country illegally and they came with them). The blog challenged the governor to do as he promised to do in the run-up to the election in November as, in the post-election euphoria, he appeared to be backing away from the commitment he had made.


Later in December, the New Jersey Legislature passed a bill to end the inequitable practice.  Gov. Christie vetoed it.  The veto was conditional, however, and so the bill was sent back to the Senate and the Assembly.  Both agreed to his conditions–including no state financial aid for these students.  The Legislature passed that bill and the Governor signed it.


Christie asked for an apology from those, presumably including me, who doubted that he was serious in reversing his earlier position (that was reflected in these words:


“I don’t believe that for those people who came here illegally, we should be subsidizing with taxpayer money, through in-state tuition, their education…And let me be very clear from my perspective: That is not a heartless position that is a common sense position.”


But Christie’s moment of triumph—and the Democrats’ and Republicans’ own claim to their “historic achievement”—leaves a lot to be desired. And, Christie certainly doesn’t deserve an apology.  He was on the wrong side and late to the game in reversing his position.  And, he stopped short of doing the right thing.


For those who had fought so long and so hard to secure the same cost for an educational opportunity for all in-state students, this legislation is significant, yes, but it still doesn’t go far enough. The door is open but not wide enough.  Undocumented students who live in the state and are eligible for admission are state residents for one purpose but not for another?  Eligible for in-state tuition but not for financial aid available to other in-state students?  Why?  Politics, as usual, and, of course, money, the usual suspects.


Colleges and universities can ‘absorb’ the loss of out-of-state tuition income (so it would seem to be the thinking) but state financial aid would be a direct cost to the state Treasury.  We can’t have that, can we, Governor?   Not when we’re still peddling tax cuts.  And, while we want to make some advances for Republicans courting the Hispanic vote, we don’t want to irritate Right Wing conservatives who become apoplectic on any issue that appears to bend in the favor of immigrants no matter who they are or when they came (themselves, presumably, excluded).  There is little doubt that presidential prospects for 2016 add perspective!


The signing of the bill was a private matter.  Why?  So a public ceremony can be held.  Not sure when, but as to why?  So our glad-handing governor can reach for more credit and spin his action his own way to the assembled who he hopes will clap and preen and appear grateful for an action that, let’s just say he hopes they will forget that he opposed all along and then, all of a sudden, he didn’t, and then he gave in but only part of the way.  Those who know are unlikely to be among the invited.  And, the politics and money part of it will go unmentioned.


The facts of the matter are these:  Good students, having received an affordable college education (one that doesn’t burden them financially for life), will earn more money and pay more taxes and contribute to civil society and to economic prosperity. So, students in New Jersey, all those who wish to and can benefit from a college education, needing financial aid to attend a public college or university in this state should not be denied it.  Whether their parents were born here, whether they came here legally or whether they didn’t. It’s not only fair–we’re talking about state residents, after all–but it’s a smart investment.


Chia-Chia Wang, from the American Friends Service Committee’s Immigrant Rights Program in Newark, had this to say in a letter to the editor of the Star Ledger:


“College is a key to success and should be available to anyone with the drive to attend…It would be a better policy if financially eligible immigrant youth can receive financial aid like everyone else.”


Common sense, isn’t it, Governor?


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