Cunningham Bill To Revise NJ STARS Approved By Legislature

Senator Sandra Bolden Cunningham, D-Hudson, listens to testimony during the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee’s hearing on the FY 2011 Budget bills.

TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senator Sandra Bolden Cunningham that would revise the NJ STARS and NJ STARS II programs was approved today by both the State Senate and the General Assembly and now heads to the Governor’s desk for consideration.

“With the ever-increasing costs of higher education, many New Jersey families have found sending their children to college to be nearly impossible. This is especially disconcerting as workforces become more competitive and the need for higher education more important for our children’s future success,” said Senator Cunningham, D-Hudson. “The NJ STARS and STARS II programs have been successful in providing higher education opportunities to high-performing New Jersey students, making the dream of college a reality, while keeping their skills and talents in the state.”

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.

“New Jersey’s colleges and universities and the state recognize that changes to these programs are necessary in order to reduce the programs’ overall costs and ensure that they can be funded for years to come,” Senator Cunningham said. “These revisions will help to stabilize the programs, so that the schools can continue to provide scholarships and funding to the recipients and the students can depend on the program as they determine the financial feasibility of higher education.”

The bill passed the Senate with a vote of 38-0 and the Assembly with a vote of 79-0.

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