In the final month of his 2013 re-election campaign, Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) unexpectedly threw his support behind New Jersey’s tuition equity bill, which would allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition at public colleges if they have attended New Jersey high schools for three years or more. Soon after the state Senate passed the bill, however, Christie said he would not sign the “overreaching” measure without some edits.
The governor finally laid out those edits at a news conference on Monday. Christie said he will not sign the bill unless the legislature kills a provision to open state financial aid to undocumented immigrants, disqualifies students who attend private or parochial schools from receiving in-state tuition, and limits eligibility to students who immigrated before 2012.
Christie argued that undocumented out-of-state children would attend private school in New Jersey so they could get in-state tuition. The New Jersey Star Ledger’s editorial board didn’t think much of this claim, accusing Christie of flip-flopping because he is eyeing a 2016 presidential run. “Think about this: He’s saying we should scrap this bill because someone might come to our pricey boarding schools from out of state, then decide to go to a public college and get in-state tuition. How many students could this possibly apply to?” the board wrote.
Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D) promptly called the governor’s reservations “bull,” accusing Christie of “finding excuses to oppose” the bill at his own news conference. According to Sweeney, Christie never voiced his concerns until November 14, when the bill cleared the Senate Budget Committee. Sweeney also suggested Christie was posturing when he promised to support tuition equality during a campaign stop at the Latino Leadership Alliance. “You don’t put something out when you’re running for governor and when you start running for president, you pull back. It’s not fair,” Sweeney said.
Christie, however, denied ever supporting this particular bill, which advocates say has been circulating in roughly the same form for a decade. “What I said to the Latino Leadership Alliance…was that I thought the Legislature should move in the lame duck session towards tuition equality in New Jersey. Period,” he said. “I didn’t support any particular legislation. And I still support tuition equality.”
Currently, undocumented students can receive in-state tuition in sixteen states, and are eligible for financial aid in three of them. Rising tuition costs pushes college education even further outside the realm of possibility for an average undocumented family, which has a far lower average income than other households, at $36,000 a year. As a result, five to ten percent of undocumented high schoolers make it to college, compared to 75 percent of their classmates.