NJ Lawmakers Call for Higher Education Reforms [AUDIO]
A pair of Garden State lawmakers unveiled a sweeping and ambitious 20-bill package Thursday aimed at addressing higher education in New Jersey.
The cornerstone measures would freeze tuition rates for nine semesters, and allow the state to shutdown any four-year college that doesn’t graduate half of its students within six years after enactment.
The bills also address college readiness, completion, cost, data collection, accountability and pathways to success. Assemblywoman Celeste Riley, chair of the Assembly Higher Education Committee, and Assemblyman Joe Cryan said their bills are not etched in stone, but they do offer a good place to start the discussion.
“These initiatives are what I consider how I would put together my agenda for my term. I plan to visit universities and have public hearings on this agenda. This is the discussion. Higher education is an important issue. The cost of higher education is an important issue in the state of New Jersey,” said Riley (D-Salem)
The key bill requires the closure of a four-year public college that fails to achieve a six-year graduation rate of at least 50 percent for full-time undergraduate students.
“Schools that don’t graduate half their students, half shouldn’t be here (and) they shouldn't be in business,” said Cryan (D-Union). “We believe there are 33,600 students or more who are in higher ed institutions today who will leave without a degree and with a debt.”
The legislation addressing cost is comprised of six bills. Chief among them is a measure that freezes tuition and fees at the same rate for nine semesters after a student enrolls at a four-year public or independent institution.
“When you start as freshman, if you stay as a fill-time student, you have nine semesters to finish with the same price point that you started with,” Cryan explained. “We have costed it out - it’s about $8 million to the higher ed schools and we think we can find an opportunity to fund that.”
Colleges would also be required to collect data on how many students graduate and whether they actually get jobs. To be held accountable, the Office of the State Comptroller would do an annual audit of the fees colleges charge. Finally, to help ensure a pathway to success, there is a bill that would require colleges raking part in a dual enrollment program to charge a lower tuition rate to students who are also in the program.
The readiness bill would require high schools students to be assessed using tests that would actually determine if they are prepared for college. There are also measures that address a student's ability to graduate from an institution of higher education.
Copies of all 20 bills can be found here.