Lawmakers Introduce Comprehensive Plan to Address Factors Leaving More and More Students Saddled with Debt and Without a Degree
Assembly Higher Education Committee Chair Celeste Riley and Assemblyman Joseph Cryan on Thursday unveiled a comprehensive package of bills 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 comprehensive 20-bill package being introduced today addresses many of the critical factors standing in the way of whether a student successfully completes college and in the most cost-effective manner possible. Among the major areas addressed by the bills are: college readiness, completion rates, cost, data collection, accountability, and pathways to success.
“This might be the first proposal of its kind to be so all-encompassing,” said Riley (D-Cumberland/Gloucester/Salem). “But that doesn’t mean what we’ve put forth is written in stone. We’re open to ideas from anyone as long as it reduces costs and enhances achievement. 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.”
“Our goal was to put forth a set of specific proposals in order to spark a debate that will lead to meaningful change,” said Cryan (D-Union). “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. Now they’re carrying a huge debt burden with hardly any means to pay it down. After reviewing these statistics, I started asking why.”
Growing reports of the escalating costs of college prompted the lawmakers to act. They spent the better part of the last three months researching the issue and meeting with advocates and relevant stakeholders, including the NJ Student Alliance, numerous college presidents, the Working Families Alliance, the AFT and the IFPTE and various student groups.
Moving forward, the sponsors intend to hold hearings for students, families, college officials and other stakeholders to offer their insight in order to ensure the bills adequately address the needs of New Jersey’s students.
Riley and Cryan noted that as tuition and fees continually increase at New Jersey’s public and private higher education institutions, so too has the number of students saddled with student loan debt who have failed to complete a degree after six years.
“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. “Sadly, that is not so much the case anymore. However, as a legislative body, we have the ability to improve New Jersey’s approach to higher education to make it a reality, once again, for any student who wants it.”
“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. That has to change and it starts with a concerted, coordinated effort on our part.”
It is with that in mind that Riley and Cryan introduced the bill package below on Thursday:
A2800 – Requires high school students to be assessed using college placement cut scores to determine their readiness for college-level course work and the Commissioner of Education to develop plans to improve college and career counseling for students.
A2801 – Provides 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.
A2802 – Establishes 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.
A2803 – This bill will mandate transparency by requiring four-year public institutions to provide information on their website regarding cost of attendance, graduation rates and information on faculty. Four-year public and independent institutions will also be required to report on their website regarding the number of students required to take remedial instruction and the graduation rates for those students.
A2804 – Mandates that county college presidents develop a plan to graduate 33 percent of students by 2020 to help increase graduation rates.
A2805 – Directs the Secretary of Higher Education to oversee the development of a common core course numbering system for general education core classes leading to an associate or bachelor degree.
A2806 – Establishes the NJ School Counts County College Scholarship Program, modeled after a similar program that has worked at Cumberland County College, in which qualifying students will receive a two-year scholarship at a county college.
A2807 – Freezes 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.
A2808 – Directs the Secretary of Higher Education to study the prevalence and cost of online courses and if any cost savings achieved are passed onto students.
A2809 – Requires higher education institutions to develop open online textbooks available to students at no charge and requires the buyback of used textbooks at 50 percent of the purchase price as a remedy for the growing costs of college textbooks, which have gone up in price 82 percent in 10 years.
A2810 – Establishes a state income tax deduction for student loan interest paid equivalent to the federal levels. This would apply to all loans for New Jersey residents as remedy to what has been labeled the “brain drain.”
A2811 – Prohibits four-year public and independent institutions from requiring students to purchase meal plans.
A2812 – Requires the development of a longitudinal statewide data system capable of retaining individual-level information starting when a student enrolls in pre-school through entry into the workforce to better inform education and labor policies.
A676 – Directs Secretary of Higher Education to establish performance-based funding plans for public institutions of higher education.
A2813 – Requires the closure of a four-year public institution that fails to achieve a six-year graduation rate of at least 50 percent for full-time undergraduate students.
A2814 – Directs 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 percent for full-time students enrolled in a four-year degree program.
A-2815 – Requires NJ Educational Facilities Authority to annually prepare report on debt held by public institutions of higher education.
A2816 -Directs State Auditor to conduct audit of fees charged by public institutions of higher education in order to tell how these fees are being distributed and how they are benefiting the college student.
PATHWAYS TO SUCCESS
A2817 – Requires institutions participating in dual enrollment programs to charge a reduced tuition rate to high school students participating in the program.
A2818 – Requires undergraduate students enrolled in a four-year degree program to file a degree plan with the institution by the completion of 45 credit hours of course work and requires degree-seeking county college students to file a degree plan upon entering the institution. Also requires public institutions of higher education to develop pathway systems that establish graduation progress benchmarks for each major.
A copy of each bill is available click here