Undocumented students will have to pay out-of-state tuition rates to attend the County College of Morris, following a vote Wednesday by the Board of Trustees.
The college board's 7-to-2 vote reverses one taken in February that would have allowed undocumented students to attend the two-year college while paying the in-county tuition rate, college President Edward J. Yaw said Thursday. Yaw said the February vote also allowed for the first time undocumented students to attend the county college.
The change means that undocumented students who seek to attend CCM will pay the out-of-state tuition rate, the school’s highest rate.
Yaw said the board will also require that undocumented students must be graduates of New Jersey high schools.
The Morris County freeholders had sought the policy change.
Freeholder Director William Chegwidden said Thursday the freeholders were only interested in the financial aspects of the change.
“It is not fair to charge one group a different rate of tuition unless it is available to all,” said Chegwidden, who is also the mayor of Wharton. “It was hard to justify in this economy when many people are suffering. You should see the number of foreclosures in my town.”
In February, the college trustees altered the policy set in 2001 regarding the attendance of undocumented students who had come to the United States before they turned 16 and had lived here for a minimum of five years.
The board voted to allow those students to attend the two-year school at the in-county tuition rate. The out-of-state tuition rate today is $9,417 compared to the in-county rate of $3,720.
That vote set off a wide-ranging discussion with residents both in opposition to the vote and in favor of the change appearing at CCM board meetings and before the Morris County freeholders.
Two dozen students attended the March 23 freeholders meeting to urge them to support the college board’s February vote.
Led by Diana Mehia, of Morristown’s Wind of the Spirit immigrant aid group, said in March that undocumented immigrants, and some of the students who wanted to attend the county college, pay state taxes.
Mehia was not in the office Thursday.
Chegwidden said some of the protestors accused the freeholders of racism.
“This is far from it,” he said. “You can now attend county college no matter where you are from, but if you are not a U.S. citizen, you’ll have to pay higher tuition.”
The freeholders, in a March 30 letter to Yaw, said that based on a 1998 federal law, if CCM allowed illegal immigrants to pay in-county tuition rates, the college would also have to offer that same tuition rate to any U.S. citizen.
Yaw replied in a letter the next day that the college board was aware of that law and of recent interpretations of it. He said that law was part of the board’s consideration of the policy change request made by the freeholders.
The section of federal law in question was enacted as part of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 and the Omnibus Consolidated Appropriations Act of 1997 and took effect in 1998.
The law states, “an alien who is not lawfully present in the United States shall not be eligible on the basis of residence within a state (or political subdivision) for any postsecondary education benefit unless a citizen or national of the United States is eligible for such a benefit (in no less an amount, duration of scope) without regard to whether the citizen or national is a resident.”
Yaw said he thought the clause requiring that the students be New Jersey high school grads was inserted to address the federal law.
He said based on the calculation that about 25 percent of Morris County high school graduates attend CCM, and a survey of most of the county’s high schools, the county college could expect 28 undocumented students.
He said the high tuition they would be forced to pay could mean that some of them do not complete their required courses in two years.
Neither Yaw nor Chegwidden said they expected any repercussions from the tussle between the two boards over this issue. The college is an independent agency in the county with freeholder oversight.
“This is a democracy," Chegwidden said. "If people don’t like our votes, they can get a new look and a new board. They can vote us out and get a new perspective.”