In the last legislative session, Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a bill that would have formed a study group of experts to look for ways to make college more affordable in the Garden State. Undeterred, Sen. President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) reintroduced his bill and the full Senate approved the measure Monday.

NJ Senate President Steve Sweeney
State Sen. Pres. Steve Sweeney (David Matthau, Townsquare Media NJ)

"What I want to do is get a lot of bright people in a room and start really focusing on the fact that higher education is not affordable in this state," Sweeney said. "I think we all need to take a step back, get in a room with the brainpower that's here, to figure ways to make it work better than it does right now."

Recent studies claim that college loan debt trails only home mortgages as the leading debt burden for Americans under the age of 35. Sweeney said this is a crisis that is reaching its apex, and he hopes Christie will give the legislation serious consideration.

"What we're doing doesn't work, so we need to change the business model of higher education," Sweeney said. "As a parent who just paid for a son to go to school, I know how expensive it is."

The legislation would create a 10-member study group including the Secretary of Higher Education, the executive director of the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority, representatives of higher education institutions, faculty members, a student representative and members of the public.

On Monday, the full Senate passed another bill aimed at helping New Jersey college students. The measure would require Garden State colleges to give each prospective student a financial aid "shopping sheet" complete with information on the costs, loan options and estimated debt they will incur as part of their financial aid offer.

The shopping sheet bill is co-sponsored by state Sens. Sandra Cunningham (D-Jersey City) and Dick Codey (D-Livingston).

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