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State senate passes college affordability bills

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Four bills aimed at equipping students with better understanding of tuition assistance programs and making higher education more affordable have been passed by the state Senate.

Each addresses one aspect of higher education affordability: requiring high schools to provide students with information on tuition assistance and student loan debt; allowing students to use tuition for summer session; creating a pathway for students to achieve a four-year degree at county colleges via a “three-plus-one” program; and providing a tax deduction for student loan payments.

Some of the bills originated from state politicians speaking with students while touring universities.

“A lot of students had never dealt with finances,” state Sen. Sandra Cunningham, D-31th District, said. “They knew very little what was available for them, we looked for ways to address those issues.”

Other bills originated from recommendations made by studies looking at the state’s high level of high school students choosing to pursue higher education outside the state.

The state-funded College Affordability Student Commission concluded in 2016 the importance of addressing high tuition costs and recommended creating a “three-plus-one” program to allow students to complete an associate’s degree at a county college, then stay at the county college for an additional year taking third-year level course, finally transferring to a four-year institution to complete their bachelor’s degree.

According to the report, this program would cost students roughly $35,000, as opposed to attending a four-year institution for four years at an estimated cost of $100,000.

“We’re trying to make college affordable and help students get in, get out and do it in a way that they’re still getting quality education while thinking out of the box to think of new ways of doing it,” Cunningham said.

New Jersey’s Business and Industry Association released a report last week that identified affordability issues as one of the main reasons for student outmigration. The organization said the bills passed in the senate today were a good first step.

The bills must pass New Jersey’s Assembly before being presented to Gov. Murphy.

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Arthur Augustyn

Arthur Augustyn

Arthur Augustyn grew up in Massachusetts and previously covered the video game industry in Los Angeles, city politics in Malibu, California, and local news in Bergen County before working at NJBIZ. He currently covers cannabis, government and tech.

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