Five-Bill Package Includes NJCLASS Income-Driven Loan Repayment, College Readiness Commission
Assembly Budget Committee Chair Gary S. Schaer and Assembly Higher Education Committee Chair Mila Jasey on Thursday introduced a comprehensive legislative package aimed at helping New Jersey residents better navigate the college process before, during and after their time on campus.
“Too many students today are unprepared entering into a higher education system that leads them to incur crushing student loan debt. We need to provide a path forward for New Jersey students by allowing them access to college curricula in high school, opening higher education possibilities and exposing them to the academic rigor ahead, and then providing them an option for a debt-free future,” said Schaer (D-Bergen/Passaic). “We must offer the next generation the tools to be successful at our colleges and universities. For their sake and our sake as a state, we must develop a more practical, more affordable means of preparing New Jersey’s workforce to compete in the 21st-century global economy.”
The five-bill package includes reform of the New Jersey College Loans to Assist State Students (NJCLASS) loan program, a college readiness commission, a loan-free tuition program, loan repayment assistance and a program that would allow high school students to earn college credits tuition-free. The legislation comes at a moment when student loan borrowers in New Jersey have an average loan balance of $32,700, an amount that exceeds the national average of $29,700, according to a recent report on regional household debt from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
“The goal of this bill package is to make sure students in New Jersey fully understand the academic preparations for, and the financial implications of, their college choices and increase their ability to successfully complete a college education without crippling them financially for a lifetime,” said Jasey (D-Essex/Morris). “As many students start college underprepared in skills for the rigor of the coursework and the ever-increasing cost of higher education leads more and more students and their families into devastating debt burdens – at times, without a degree to show for it – this legislation must be a priority for our state.”
Schaer noted that putting college within reach for more students will attract employers looking to launch in, or relocate to, a state with a highly-educated workforce. The bill package must be part of a multi-faceted effort to lift up New Jersey, which consistently has ranked among the worst states for business in the nation, he said.
“Strengthening the economy and rebuilding the middle class in New Jersey requires a focus on closing the skills gap and ensuring that employers who consider coming to our state can find the talent they need here,” Schaer said. “By making college more affordable and accessible for more New Jersey residents, this legislation will help attract businesses, expand tax bases in municipalities statewide and ultimately, make this state a better place to live and raise a family.”
- NJ CLASS Income-Driven Repayment – The bill would require the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority (HESAA) to establish an income-driven repayment option for NJCLASS borrowers. The measure would limit the borrower’s monthly payment to a maximum of 10 percent of discretionary income, discharge any remaining debt after 20 years of payments and provide $0 monthly payments for borrowers with incomes at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level. The measure also would establish a loan rehabilitation program for the purpose of rehabilitating a defaulted loan and removing the loan from default status.
- College Readiness Commission – The bill would establish the High School to College Readiness Commission, an 18-member body focused on recommending ways to better prepare students for college and raising the awareness of students and parents regarding the admission requirements and the financial and other issues associated with postsecondary education.
- Two to Four Loan-Free Students Program – The proposed program would provide loan-free tuition through the New Jersey Tuition Aid Grant (TAG) program to low-income, full-time students who choose to defer acceptance at a four-year public college, complete the first two years of their post-secondary education at a county college and then transfer to the four-year institution to complete a bachelor’s degree.
- Succeed in New Jersey Program – The proposed loan repayment assistance award program would repay up to $6,000 in loans annually for up to three years for recent graduates entering careers deemed in-demand by the Department of Labor.
- College-Ready Students Program – The bill, the “New Jersey College Ready Students Program Act,” would provide for tuition-free enrollment of public high school juniors and seniors in dual enrollment courses at county colleges. Students may earn up to 12 college credits tuition-free through the program.
The five bills will be referred to the Assembly Higher Education Committee, of which Jasey is chair.