Cunningham/Ruiz Bill Would Make Nj Stars Programs More Economically Sustainable For State

State Senator Sandra B. Cunningham, D-Hudson, speaks with a staffer before the beginning of the Budget Committee meeting on Governor Corzine's toll road plan.

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), to keep these programs economically sustainable for the State of New Jersey, was approved today by the Senate Education Committee.

“Considering the dire fiscal straits the State is in, these programs must be changed to ensure that they can continue to provide access to higher education for the State’s best and brightest students,” said Senator Cunningham, D-Hudson, who is a member of the NJ STARS Task Force. “I’ve listened to the testimony of students who have benefitted greatly from the NJ STARS programs, even in the short time since they were created. This is a tough, but necessary decision that we’ve had to make, and these revisions to the current law would allow the State to continue to provide these scholarship programs to hard-working New Jersey students.”

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.

Under the bill, the scholarship’s eligibility would be limited to students whose family income is less than $250,000 per year. The amount of each scholarship would be based on a student’s grade point average (GPA). For example, students who graduate from a community college with a GPA of between 3.25 and 3.5 would receive up to $3,000 per semester. Students who graduate with a GPA greater than 3.5 would receive $3,500 per semester.

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.

The measure now heads to the full Senate for approval.

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