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Cunningham: Strengthening Requirements May Be Key In Maintaining NJ STARS Programs

Senator Sandra Cunningham listens to testimony during the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee hearing.

TRENTON – Senator Sandra Bolden Cunningham, D-Hudson, the lead questioner for today’s FY 2009 Budget with the Higher Education Commission, released the following statement:

“The State’s NJ STARS programs, while relatively new, seem to be making a real difference in the lives of New Jersey’s scholars. I applaud Senator Wayne Bryant for authoring this legislation because it gives hope to some of the State’s hardest working scholars.

“With this year’s bleak financial forecast, it’s obvious that we’ll need to make some changes with regard to higher education funding. Governor Corzine’s proposed budget includes an increase of $900,000 to help cover the cost of tuition and fees under the STARS programs. It is imperative that we find a way to continue to provide the STARS programs to some of our neediest students, which could mean cutting funds for those who can afford to pay.

“Currently, the STARS II program provides free college tuition to those students who place in the top 20% of their class while earning their Associates degree. I am proposing that we change the STARS II program to only provide the free tuition to those graduating in the 10% of their class. While local county colleges do not seem to be having financial trouble maintaining STARS, many of the four-year institutions are saying that STARS II places a very heavy burden on their shoulders. For example, Rutgers currently has 222 STARS II students, and of that number roughly 70% do not qualify for financial aid.

“Ideally, we’d be able to continue the STARS II program as it was authored, but the reality is that changes may need to be made to allow the program to continue. I believe that strengthening the qualification requirements may be the key to maintaining the STARS programs. Tough fiscal times call for even tougher fiscal decisions, and because a college degree is necessary to compete for job opportunities, we want to ensure that we take care of those students who can least afford to pay.”

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