***MULTIMEDIA PACKAGE*** Full Assembly Ok’s Comprehensive Bill Package Aimed at Making College More Affordable and Attainable in NJ

7-Bill Package is Sponsored by Riley, Cryan, Quijano, Coughlin, Lagana, Vainieri Huttle, Jasey, Stender, Garcia, Giblin, Mukherji, Moriarty, Pinkin, Eustace, Benson & Burzichelli

(TRENTON) — The General Assembly on Thursday approved seven key bills that are part of a larger 20-bill package aimed at addressing the systemic factors pushing more and more New Jersey students into the real world saddled with debt and without a college degree.

The bills approved today are sponsored by Assembly Democrats Celeste Riley, Joseph Cryan, Annette Quijano, Craig Coughlin, Joseph Lagana, Vainieri Huttle, Mila Jasey, Linda Stender, Carmelo Garcia, Thomas Giblin, Raj Mukherji, Paul Moriarty, Nancy Pinkin, Tim Eustace, Daniel Benson and John Burzichelli.

Riley and Cryan first unveiled the 20-bill package in March to address many of the critical factors standing in the way of whether a student successfully completes college and in the most cost-effective manner possible, including: college readiness, completion rates, cost, data collection, accountability, and pathways to success.

Riley issued a multimedia package Thursday on the legislative initiative.

“This might be the first proposal of its kind to be so all-encompassing,” said Riley (D-Cumberland/Gloucester/Salem), Chair of the Assembly Higher Education Committee. “While visiting colleges during my legislative tenure we were able to hear what’s working and what’s not at many of our schools. This is a chance for us to take those success stories and make them a reality for every school and student.”

“One of the statistics that really stood out to me was the number of students that were ‘down and out’ – meaning after so many years enrolled in college they were down money and still without a degree,” said Cryan (D-Union). “Now they’re carrying a huge debt burden with hardly any means to pay it down. We need to change that and these bills are a good start.”

The multimedia package consists of a video of Riley discussing several of the bills that passed the General Assembly and audio and a transcript of same.

The video can be accessed directly via our website — www.assemblydems.com — or by clicking here.

The audio file is available upon request.

A transcript of comments from Assemblywoman Riley is appended at the end of the release.

The following seven bills were approved today:
A-668 — sponsored by Cryan, Quijano, Coughlin, Lagana, Riley and Vainieri Huttle — would require four-year public and independent institutions of higher education to provide a financial aid shopping sheet to each prospective student as part of the school’s financial aid offer. The bill was approved by a vote of 77-0.

“Higher education is the first of a few major financial decisions a person will have to make in their lifetime,” said Quijano (D-Union). “Families should have at their fingertips the information they need to make the right decision for them. Hopefully, it will help prevent many graduates from carrying the heavy burden of unpaid college debt.”

“The shopping sheet would include valuable information on costs and anticipated debt that a student can expect to incur while attending a particular school,” said Coughlin (D-Middlesex). “In addition, the sheet must include information on the school’s graduation rate, student retention rate and student loan default rate, all important indicators of a student’s long-term outcome.”

“Honest details on loan amounts, repayment schedules and other financing options will give students an idea of their potential long-term liability and how to avoid debt pitfalls,” said Lagana (D-Bergen/Passaic). “This legislation will empower families and students with the information needed to make the best decision for their future.”

“Having just sent two children off to college I know how overwhelming and expensive the whole process can be,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “This will help students and their parents gain better control over the whole process and make an informed decision.”

A2801 — sponsored by Jasey, Stender, Riley and Garcia — stipulates that no more than 120 credits will be required for a bachelor degree awarded by a public institution and no more than 60 credits for an associate degree. The bill was approved by a vote of 48-26-3.

“The workload and expenses for a degree should be the same or comparable, regardless of what public institution a student attends,” said Stender (D-Middlesex/Somerset/Union). “This bill will ensure fairness and continuity for students pursuing the same degree at different schools.”

“We all know that students are graduating from college with far more student loan debt than ever before,” said Garcia (D-Hudson). “Uniformity in this area is important to ensure that students aren’t overburdened just so a college can get more money out of them.”

A-2802 — sponsored by Riley, Cryan, Giblin, Mukherji, Lagana and Moriarty — would establish a statewide reverse transfer agreement under which at least 30 credits that a student earns towards a bachelor degree at a four-year public institution are transferrable to any county college for credit toward an associate degree to help encourage re-enrollment and degree completion and help a student know their time and money was not wasted. The bill was approved by a vote of 76-1.

“Encouraging more students to think outside the box and take advantage of two-year, as well as four-year colleges, will help them minimize costs while pursuing a career they’re interested in,” said Giblin (D-Essex/Passaic).

“A student’s interests often change after they first enter college, especially when there is no gap between high school and higher studies,” said Mukherji (D-Hudson). “This will help students continue on the path to higher education without feeling discouraged or that they wasted time or money.”

“I’ve heard countless stories about people who have given up on college because they changed their mind about what they wanted to do midway through, only to go back years later and regret not having done it sooner,” said Lagana (D-Bergen/Passaic). “This will help encourage students to continue working towards a degree when they might otherwise be tempted to give up.”

“There are many great degrees and certification programs offered by county colleges,” said Moriarty (D-Camden/Gloucester). “Students can just as easily find a rewarding and well-paying career down this path and that should be encouraged rather than seeing them give up on higher education all together.”

A2805 — sponsored by Jasey, Riley, Cryan, Stender and Pinkin — would direct the Secretary of Higher Education to establish a common core course numbering system for public institutions of higher education for general education core classes leading to an associate degree or a bachelor degree. The bill was approved by a vote of 52-21-4.

“Transferring between schools can be costly and counter-productive depending on how many core requirements are transferrable,” said Jasey (D-Essex/Morris). “Requiring schools to use a common course numbering system will create much-needed continuity at the core level to help eliminate these problems.”

A2807 — sponsored by Cryan, Riley, Eustace, Quijano, Lagana and Moriarty — would freeze tuition and fees at the same rate for nine semesters following a student’s initial enrollment at a four-year public or independent institution, potentially saving some students upwards of $10,000 over the course of a six-year degree completion program. The bill was approved by a vote of 48-21-6.

“The present system is almost untenable for working and middle-class families,” added Cryan. “Unless we find ways to make college more affordable and achievable, our higher education system will only serve to reinforce socio-economic inequalities rather than reduce them.”

“Smart, well-thought-out programs like the government G.I. Bill helped transform college from an opportunity only afforded to the privileged to a path anyone could take to the American Dream,” added Riley.

“As a legislative body, this is our chance to boost New Jersey’s approach to higher education to make it a reality, once again, for any student who wants it,” said Eustace (D-Bergen). “A concerted, coordinated effort on our part can make the difference between whether college becomes a pipe dream or a reality for future generations.”

A2814 — sponsored by Cryan, Burzichelli, Riley and Benson — would direct the Secretary of Higher Education to revoke a proprietary school’s license to award academic degrees if the school fails to achieve a six-year graduation rate of at least 75% for full-time students enrolled in a four-year degree program and a three-year graduation rate of at least 75% for full-time students enrolled in a two-year degree program. The bill was approved by a vote of 47-14-16.

“Access to college is all but meaningless if it’s not followed up with a degree and decent job potential,” said Burzichelli (D-Cumberland/Gloucester/Salem). “Holding these schools more accountable will help ensure they have the student’s best interests in mind, not just their bottom line.”

A2815 — sponsored by Pinkin, Cryan, Riley, Quijano and Benson — would require the New Jersey Educational Facilities Authority to annually submit a report to the Governor and Legislature detailing the debt ratio and the debt burden ratio for each public institution of higher education. The bill was approved by a vote of 66-3-8.

“Transparency, when it comes to a college’s finances, is important,” said Pinkin. “Substantial debt loads can have a significant impact on yearly tuition rate hikes and prospective students and their families should be aware of that before they decide on a school.”

The Assembly has now approved a total of seven bills from the 20-bill package, to date. They now head to the Senate for consideration.

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Assemblywoman Celeste M. Riley (D-Cumberland), Assembly Higher Education Committee Chairwoman:
“A-2801 provides that all bachelor’s degrees are 120 credits; all associate’s degrees are 60 credits. It prevents credit creep. It saves you money and gets you out of college on time.

“Then we have something called a reverse transfer agreement. So, you’re in a four-year institution. You only go three years. So, what do you do with that? This says that there has to be some form of an agreement between a four-year institution and a two-year institution that would allow you, if you’ve gone to school for three years, to go back and get an associate’s degree or a certificate [to] give you credit for the work that you have achieved, so that you have a piece of paper that you can take to an employer and get a job.

“A-2805, common course numbering system. We want the two-year institutions and four-year institutions to come up with a common numbering system for their courseworks. So, if you’re taking a 100-level course at a two-year, it’s equivalent to a 100 level course at a four-year. This will provide parity.

“2807, tuition freeze. We’re gonna freeze your tuition and it’ll be the same on the day that you graduated as the day that you entered. That’s tangible; it’s attractive; it’s an incentive to get out of school on time but it’s also an incentive to keep you here in the State of New Jersey. And that’s what we want.

“A-2814, mandatory 75 percent graduation [rate] of our for-profit colleges and universities. It’s in your best interest that you graduate: it’s costing you a lot of money and so, we’re going to ensure that they’re doing their job. I think we can do that.”