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Cunningham-Sweeney-Greenstein Legislation Making College More Affordable Advances

TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senator Sandra B. Cunningham, Senate President Steve Sweeney and Senator Linda Greenstein establishing new programs to make college more affordable and accessible cleared the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee today.

“These bills continue our efforts to provide New Jersey students with access to an affordable higher education,” said Senator Cunningham (D-Hudson), Chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee.   “Too many graduates are being saddled with excessive debt, which is holding many of them back from purchasing a home, starting a family and contributing to the state’s economy. These measures are about giving our students the best opportunity to be successful.”

“We need to open the doors to higher education by making it more affordable for New Jersey students and their families,” said Senator Sweeney (D-Cumberland, Gloucester and Salem). “The skills and training of a college education means more job opportunities and the ability to compete in the modern economy. We want to keep our students in New Jersey where they can get a quality education and pursue professional careers. Our higher education affordability bills will help us make significant progress.”

“It is important to provide the necessary tools for New Jersey’s college-bound students to help put a higher education within their reach and make sure that they can stay here to earn their degrees,” said Senator Greenstein (D-Middlesex, Mercer), sponsor of S-991. “By changing certain provisions of our award program and expanding eligibility to increase the number of students who quality for it, we can give more high-performing high school students a chance to go to college and pursue their goals.”

The first bill, S-990, requires high school graduation requirements on financial literacy to include instructions on available State and federal tuition assistance programs, including grants, scholarships, and student loans.  The bill further provides that a student enrolled in high school meets with a guidance counselor during either the second or third year of high school to discuss State and federal tuition assistance programs that could be available to the student to finance postsecondary educational opportunities. Guidance counselors would also discuss options available to the student for dual enrollment in high school and an institution of higher education that would enable the student to earn college credit while still in high school and reduce the overall cost of a higher education.

The second bill, S-991, would create the New Jersey Honor Scholars Program, replacing the New Jersey Student Tuition Assistance Reward Scholarship II (NJ STARS II) Program. The bill would permit students to be eligible for the scholarship if their class rank at the completion of the 11th or 12th grade is in the top 20 percent of their high school class. Current eligibility is limited to the top 15 percent, under NJ STARS. Furthermore, a scholarship under the New Jersey HonorScholars Program would be applied toward the cost of tuition. The amount of the scholarship a county college student would be eligible to receive would remain the same as under NJ STARS.   A student would be eligible to receive a scholarship of $2,000 for each semester of enrollment and would be permitted to receive a scholarship for up to eight semesters, excluding summer sessions.

The bill would allow a student who receives a scholarship under the new program to be eligible to take less than 12 credits in a semester if the student provides the college a written note from a physician or other licensed heath care professional indicating the student’s need to take a reduced number of credits due to a physical or mental health condition. A student who receives a medical exemption from the full-time course of study requirement pursuant to this bill would be eligible for additional semesters of eligibility under the New Jersey HonorScholars Scholarship, if necessary.

Both bills cleared the committee 11-0 and now head to the full Senate for further consideration.