TRENTON — The soon-to-be-enacted law providing state Tuition Aid Grants to undocumented immigrants appears likely to cost more than lawmakers thought when they considered the bill.

Nonpartisan legislative staffers initially had projected the proposal would add almost $4.5 million in costs to the TAG program – an average of $7,451 for an estimated 600 undocumented students who have qualified for in-state tuition rates since 2014.

But updated numbers provided by four-year colleges to the Legislature in recent weeks show at least 670 such students are enrolled this year. The difference would add more than half a million dollars to the cost of the expanded TAG program.

Moreover, that figure is surely an under count as it does not include numbers from Rowan or William Paterson universities or any private colleges. Rowan didn’t answer that part on the questionnaire from the Legislature. William Paterson said it doesn’t capture that data.

Gov. Phil Murphy has until the last day of May to act on the bill that makes undocumented immigrants eligible for state financial aid programs. He campaigned on it and is expected to sign it – and a state agency is preparing as if he’ll sign it so it can be ready for the fall 2018 semester.

“In the spirit of preparedness, we have been doing work getting ready for that eventuality, if it does occur, by looking at the way a similar law has been implemented in the state of California,” said David Socolow, executive director of Higher Education Student Assistance Authority.

Socolow said California created its own version of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, for undocumented students to fill out.

“The deadline for FAFSA completion for enrollees for the next school year is Sept. 15, and so depending on when this bill becomes law, we would enough time to get that underway,” said Socolow.

Sen. Teresa Ruiz, D-Essex, who is the lead sponsor of S699, said she is “just concerned with timing, that when in fact this goes into place that the department is ready and capable to get the word out.”

“I don’t know the machinations that will be required in your department,” Ruiz told Soclolow and acting Higher Education Secretary Zakiya Smith Ellis at a budget hearing. “All I know is that I want to be able to have that student up and ready to be able to attend university in September if that’s possible.”

Ruiz hopes the transition goes better than four years ago, when undocumented immigrants were made eligible for in-state tuition rates but were still being told by some colleges that they has to pay the higher out-of-state rates.

“There was this kind of lag time for education that needs to be done both on the university side and to families, to let them know what resources we have available,” Ruiz said.


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Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5 and the editor of New Jersey: Decoded. Follow @NJDecoded on Twitter and Facebook. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com