Assembly Approves 7 More Bills Aimed at Making College More Affordable and Attainable in NJ

Comprehensive Package is Sponsored by Riley, Cryan, Benson, Garcia, Giblin, Eustace, Pinkin, Mazzeo, Burzichelli, Lagana & Stender

The General Assembly on Thursday approved seven more bills that are part of a larger 20-bill package aimed at addressing the systemic factors pushing more and more New Jersey students into the real world saddled with debt and without a college degree.

Comprehensive Package is Sponsored by Riley, Cryan, Benson, Garcia, Giblin, Eustace, Pinkin, Mazzeo, Burzichelli, Lagana & Stender

The General Assembly on Thursday approved seven more bills that are part of a larger 20-bill package aimed at addressing the systemic factors pushing more and more New Jersey students into the real world saddled with debt and without a college degree.

The bills approved today are sponsored by Assembly Democrats Celeste Riley, Joseph Cryan, Daniel Benson, Carmelo Garcia, Thomas Giblin, Tim Eustace, Nancy Pinkin, Vince Mazzeo, John Burzichelli, Joseph Lagana and Linda Stender.

Riley and Cryan first unveiled the 20-bill package in March to address many of the critical factors standing in the way of whether a student successfully completes college and in the most cost-effective manner possible, including: college readiness, completion rates, cost, data collection, accountability, and pathways to success. Since then, seven bills have already received approval by the full Assembly.

The following seven bills were advanced by the Assembly Higher Education Committee today:

A-2803 - sponsored by Cryan, Riley, Benson and Garcia and approved 50-20-2 - would require independent colleges, like public colleges, to report certain consumer information on their websites, including the cost of attendance, the graduation rates of admitted students, and the faculty of the institution; also requires information on remedial instruction to be provided by public and independent colleges; directs how remedial education is delivered at public and certain independent colleges.

"Independent institutions should be held to the same level of accountability as private institutions," said Riley (D-Cumberland/Gloucester/Salem), Chair of the Assembly Higher Education Committee. "This change will give students the same easy access to information already required of public schools in order to help them choose the school that's the right fit for them."

"Affordability and the type of results a school produces are two key factors that students and their parents should be aware of when choosing the school that's best suited for them," said Cryan (D-Union). "This bill also addresses remedial support and coursework in a practical manner so that a student doesn't end up wasting hard-earned money on a degree program that might not be feasible for them."

"Not only will this bill create transparency to make selecting a school easier, but it's also designed to help make students more independent," said Garcia (D-Hudson). "By creating a guideline for remedial coursework, we'll also help students better gauge their readiness for a particular program, and reduce the amount of time and money they might waste on a program that may not be well-suited for them."

A-2804 - sponsored by Giblin, Riley, Cryan and Benson and approved 50-18-2 - would require county colleges to develop a plan to achieve a three-year graduation rate of at least 33 percent for full-time degree-program students by the 2019-2020 academic year.

"I think this is, by no means, an unrealistic expectation for county colleges," said Giblin (D-Essex/Passaic). "To the contrary, I think it's a realistic goal that will incentivize colleges to help their students graduate in a timely manner."

"Two of the overarching goals of this entire reform package are to make college more affordable and attainable," said Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex). "Requiring colleges to graduate a certain percentage of students in three years will not only ensure that more students obtain a degree, but it will also help cut down on costs if they graduate sooner."

A-2808 - sponsored by Giblin, Eustace, Riley and Benson and approved 71-2-0 - would direct the Secretary of Higher Education to study the prevalence, cost, and quality of on-line courses compared to traditional classroom courses offered by institutions of higher education.

"Online schools are popping up more and more these days offering lots of promises to students who may not have the time or money to attend a traditional college," said Eustace (D-Bergen/Passaic). "This bill will help create some consumer protections for prospective students considering an online alternative."

A-2811 - sponsored by Cryan, Riley, Mazzeo and Pinkin and approved 53-17-3 - would prohibit four-year public and independent institutions of higher education from requiring students to purchase meal plans and permit the institutions to only offer meal plans in the form of a spending allowance.

"More often than not, students and their parents spend far more than they need to on college food costs because of the lack of flexibility when it comes to purchasing meal plans," said Mazzeo (D-Atlantic). "For some, this just adds to the debt they take with them when they graduate and for others it's an outright disincentive to even go to college. We need to change that."

"This is just one example of where college needs to catch up with the times and adapt to students' needs and wants," said Pinkin (D-Middlesex). "Allowing students to eat where they want will add flexibility and affordability to their lives and eliminate one more growing cost among the many that continue to add up to the total price of higher education."

A-2813 - sponsored by Cryan, Burzichelli, Riley, Benson, and Garcia and approved 48-23-2- would require the closure of a four-year public institution of higher education that fails to achieve a six-year graduation rate of at least 50 percent for full-time undergraduate students.

"Before we can require greater accountability from students, we have to require greater accountability from our schools," added Cryan. "As it stands now, the graduation rate at some of the schools throughout our state are atrocious. That needs to change and it needs to start with accountability on the part of schools."

"Essentially this is like having colleges offer a warranty on their product," said Burzichelli (D-Cumberland/Gloucester/Salem). "If schools risk closure for not maintaining a certain graduation rate, you know they will make every effort to ensure students receive a better quality education, and consequently, greater peace of mind in the end."

A-2816 - sponsored by Cryan, Riley, Pinkin and Lagana and approved 70-1-3 - would require the State Auditor to conduct an audit of the fees charged by public institutions of higher education.

"Fees can be an easy way for colleges to downplay the true cost of tuition," added Riley. "This audit will help create more transparency and allow current and prospective students to see where their money is truly going."

"There are a myriad of fees that can be tacked onto the base price of college and add up significantly," said Lagana (D-Bergen/Passaic). "This will help students and their parents get a better handle on these fees to determine the true cost of college and whether they can afford it or not."

A-2818- sponsored by Stender, Riley, Cryan and Lagana and approved 71-1-2- would require certain undergraduate students to file a degree plan and require public institutions of higher education to develop a pathway systems to graduation.

"This will help put students on a clearer path towards their intended goal and prevent them from getting lost in the shuffle of anonymity that often accompanies the earlier years of college," said Stender (D-Middlesex/Somerset/Union). "This bill strikes a healthy balance by requiring students and colleges to work together to create a focused plan for degree attainment."

The bills now head to the Senate for consideration.