TRENTON – A measure sponsored by Senators Sandra Bolden Cunningham and Teresa Ruiz, which would make changes to the New Jersey Student Tuition Assistance Reward Scholarship (NJ STARS) and the New Jersey Student Tuition Assistance Reward Scholarship II (NJ STARS II) programs, to keep them more economically sustainable for the State of New Jersey, received final legislative approval today by the full Senate, by a vote of 33 to 4.
“This bill is a product of a task force charged with the responsibility of studying the NJ STARS programs, and making recommendations of ways to ensure the programs’ longevity,” said Senator Cunningham, D-Hudson, who was a member of the NJ STARS Task Force. “This bill is definitely not the perfect solution to the problems of funding these scholarships. But it is the first step in the right direction toward amending the NJ STARS programs, and ensuring that they can benefit the best and brightest students from all areas in New Jersey.”
“My main concern for this legislation – and for the STARS programs in general – is that there must be a committed effort to ensure that all of the State’s school districts have equal access to these programs,” said Senator Ruiz, D-Essex and Union, who was a member of the NJ STARS Task Force. “The enactment of this bill would serve as the first of many necessary changes that would transform this well-intended legislation from a good law that helps students, to a real chance at higher education for high-achieving students from all walks of life here in New Jersey.”
The Senators’ bill, S-2373, would make a number of changes to the NJ STARS and NJ STARS II programs.
NJ STARS would be amended to require qualified students to graduate from high school in the top 15% of their class, instead of the current 20% requirement. Students would also have to demonstrate readiness for college class work by passing a qualifying exam.
Students would be permitted to take a maximum of 18 credits per semester, instead of the current maximum of 15 credits. STARS students in their last semester would be permitted to take fewer than 12 credits.
NJ STARS II would be amended to require qualified students to have graduated from the NJ STARS program with a cumulative GPA of 3.25, instead of the current 3.0 requirement.
According to the State Commission on Higher Education, there are currently 5,000 students participating in the STARS programs at community and four year colleges. These scholarships are costing the state $13.8 million per year. The Commission on Higher Education projects that the enrollment will increase to 7,000 students by the year 2010, which would increase State costs to $30 million per year. The bill would save the State between $3 and $5 million per year, the Senators said.
“It is imperative that we work on ways to address some of the inadequacies within the current law in terms of the programs’ funding and statewide access,” the Senators said.
The Senators noted that they will be working together on legislation that would examine the funding levels for the Education Opportunity Fund (EOF) and Tuition Aid Grants (TAG) programs.
This measure now heads to the Governor’s desk where his signature would make it State law.