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Cunningham Bill To Revise NJ STARS Approved By Higher Education Panel

Senator Sandra Bolden Cunningham, D-Hudson, speaks about a bill before the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.

TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senator Sandra Bolden Cunningham that would revise the NJ STARS and NJ STARS II programs unanimously passed the Senate Higher Education Committee Monday.

“The NJ STARS and STARS II programs provide the opportunity of higher education to some of New Jersey’s highest performing students, many of whom may not be able to afford to go to college without it,” said Senator Cunningham (D-Hudson), Chairwoman of the Senate Higher Education Committee. “As workforces are becoming more competitive, higher education is becoming increasingly necessary for future success. By investing in the education of New Jersey’s best and brightest, we can encourage students to continue their education while keeping their talent and skills in New Jersey.”

The bill, S-874, revises the New Jersey Student Tuition Assistance Reward Scholarship (NJ STARS) program to cover the costs of tuition at one of New Jersey’s 19 county colleges for New Jersey students who rank in the top 15 percent of their high school graduating class. Previously the program covered both the cost of tuition and fees. According to the NJ Council of County Colleges, the average yearly tuition cost for a New Jersey county college is just under $3,000.

The bill would also revise the NJ STARS II Program – which provides additional scholarships to NJ STARS students who have completed an associate’s degree with a 3.25 GPA or higher at a county college to continue their education at a New Jersey four-year college or institution by:

 Expanding the program to allow for students to attend either one of New Jersey’s public universities or one of New Jersey’s independent four-year institutions including for-profit institutions;

 Eliminating the provision of the program that calculates scholarship amount based on the student’s GPA and instead providing a scholarship of $1,250 per semester for all NJ STARS students who maintained a 3.25 GPA or higher during their tenure at a New Jersey county college;

 Providing that 100 percent of the scholarship amount – $1,250 per semester – would be paid for by the state rather than 50 percent by the state and 50 percent by the attending school – as previously administered; and

 Encouraging county colleges to host annual recruitment days and to invite representatives from New Jersey’s public and independent colleges and institutions to recruit students for the NJ STARS II Program.

The bill includes two grandfather provisions. For students graduating from high school prior to 2010, the NJ STARS Program would continue to cover both tuition and fees at a New Jersey county college. Additionally, the bill also grandfathers in third year NJ STARS II students, so that will receive scholarship funds in accordance with the current law – either $6,000 or $7,000 per year depending upon their GPA.

“We have worked closely with New Jersey’s colleges and universities to revise the NJ STARS Programs to reduce the overall cost of these programs to both the state and New Jersey’s colleges and universities, while continuing to provide scholarships and funding to New Jersey’s students,” Senator Cunningham said. “Hopefully, these revisions will help create stability in the program going forward so that students can depend on this program when determining the financial feasibility of higher education.”

The bill now heads to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for consideration.

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