For the first time in nearly a decade, illegal immigrants will be allowed to take classes at the County College of Morris in a policy change that is drawing praise from some education officials and sharp criticism from immigration policy activists. The trustees at the Randolph-based college voted 7-1 earlier this week to reverse a rule barring undocumented students, school officials said. Starting this summer, the public two-year college will be one of the first schools in New Jersey to openly acknowledge it is enrolling illegal immigrants and allowing them to pay the same tuition rate as other county residents.
"Over the last two years, we’ve become aware of an increasing number of students who were educated in the public schools, who got good grades and, because of our policy, could not be educated here," said Edward Yaw, president of the County College of Morris. "They either had to attend other county colleges or pay significantly more to attend another school."
The policy barring illegal immigrants was enacted in 2002 in response to security concerns following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. CCM’s reversal surprised many higher education officials and immigration activists who said the 8,800-student school was one of the only state colleges to actively bar illegal immigrants.
• N.J. ranks in top 10 states with most college-degree holders, study says
• County College of Morris cancels class for rest of week due to no air conditioning
• County College of Morris relocates Morristown division to Schuyler Place office complex
• County College of Morris in Randolph planning major capital improvements
• County College of Morris offers classes training students on 'green industries'
• Community colleges in N.J. are cutting back on smoking
Most of New Jersey’s two- and four-year colleges have a "don’t ask, don’t tell" policy when it comes to admitting illegal immigrants. Applicants are not asked for Social Security numbers when they apply, so the colleges do not know if they are in the country illegally.
However, public colleges usually require illegal students to pay out-of-state tuition rates if they can’t prove they live in New Jersey legally. Undocumented students are also not eligible for state or federal financial aid.
CCM will be one of the first schools in the state to establish a clear set of rules for enrolling illegal students. Under the new policy, only students who are 35 or younger and graduated from a U.S. high school are eligible. Students must also prove they entered the U.S. before age 16 and lived in the country at least five consecutive years.
The illegal immigrant students will be charged Morris’ in-county tuition rates — $115 a credit or about $3,450 a year, plus fees, for a full-time student. "They can’t get federal or state financial aid," Yaw said.
Critics believe it is wrong for a taxpayer-funded institution to openly admit illegal immigrants.
"The laws of our country need to be enforced and obeyed," said Ron Bass, founder of the United Patriots of America, a Linden-based group that has called for tougher immigration laws. "Morris County College is in violation of our federal law."
Immigration activists said they consider the CCM policy change a major victory.
"I’m excited . . . We can tell that the tide is turning," said Marisol Conde-Hernandez, 23, an illegal immigrant enrolled at Rutgers University who has lobbied for more college access for undocumented students.
In the past year, legislation that would have allowed illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition at New Jersey colleges failed to pass. The federal DREAM Act, which would have helped illegal students gain legal status, also failed to make it through Congress.
Other higher education officials praised the Morris County school for joining the New Jersey colleges enrolling illegal immigrants.
"The County College of Morris is taking a step in the right direction," said G. Jeremiah Ryan, president of Bergen Community College, which already admits undocumented students. "Bergen will continue to support the removal of barriers to educational opportunities for the students we serve."
County College of Morris votes to allow illegal immigrants to enroll in classes | NJ.com