The Senate Higher Education committee in their inaugural meeting of the new session took testimony on several student aid issues. NJPSA weighed in on several of the measures.
Changes to Graduation Requirement
Senate bill S-990 (Cunningham / Sweeney) would requires the State Board of Education to amend the current high school graduation requirements to include instruction on tuition assistance programs and student loan debt. The bill also requires high school students to meet with a guidance counselor to discuss tuition assistance and dual enrollment.
Specifically, the bill provides that beginning with the 2016-2017 grade nine class, the State Board of Education would be required to institute a new high school graduation requirement within the financial literacy area to include instruction on available State and federal tuition assistance programs, including grants, scholarships, and student loans. The instruction would be required to incorporate issues associated with student loan debt, the requirements for repayment of that debt, and the consequences of the failure to repay student loan debt in a timely manner.
The bill also provides that a school district must ensure that a student enrolled in high school meets with a guidance counselor during either the second or third year of high school to discuss State and federal tuition assistance programs that may be available to the student to finance postsecondary educational opportunities. The guidance counselor must also discuss options available to the student for dual enrollment in high school and an institution of higher education that will enable the student to earn college credit while still in high school and reduce the overall cost of a higher education.
NJPSA supports the bill but expressed some concern with the bill’s timing requirement as to second or third year as well as resource concerns if one-on-one guidance is required for each student.
Also approved was legislation, S-989 (Cunningham / Sweeney) establishing a new “Einstein Scholars Program” within the State. Under the program, a scholarship would annually be awarded to 25 students who graduate in the top 5.0% of the student’s high school class and have been accepted for enrollment in a New Jersey four-year public institution of higher education. A scholarship under the Einstein Scholars Program would cover the full cost of tuition and fees, subject to the prior application of other grants and scholarships against those costs, for an eligible student enrolled in a full-time undergraduate program of study at a New Jersey four-year public institution of higher education.
Under the bill, the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority would administer the program, establish criteria, methodology, and guidelines for selecting the Einstein Scholars, adopt rules and regulations, and prescribe and provide appropriate forms of application for a scholarship.
The bill also provides that, in September of each school year, the board of education of a school district or the chief school administrator of a nonpublic school will notify each student in the 12th grade who is ranked in the top 10.0% of the class of the potential to qualify for the Einstein Scholars Program if the student’s class rank at the completion of the 12th grade is within the top 5.0% of the class.
NJPSA supports this measure.
Modification to STARS Program
Further, the committee approved changes to the STARS program via S-991 (Cunningham / Sweeney). This bill establishes the New Jersey HonorScholars Program which would be administered by the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority. Under the provisions of the bill, the New Jersey Student Tuition Assistance Reward Scholarship (NJ STARS) Program would be renamed, and become part of the New Jersey HonorScholars Program. Although the name of the NJ STARS scholarship would be changed, the amount of the scholarship a county college student would be eligible to receive would remain the same. The eligibility criteria for the county college scholarship would also remain the same, except that the bill would permit students to be eligible for the scholarship if their class rank at the completion of the 11th or 12th grade is in the top 20.0 percent of their high school class. Under the current NJ STARS program, a student is required to have a class rank in the top 15.0 percent of the class at the completion of the 11th or 12th grade.
Under the bill, the New Jersey Student Tuition Assistance Reward Scholarship II (NJ STARS II) Program is also repealed. In place of NJ STARS II, the New Jersey HonorScholars Program would offer scholarships to students to attend the State’s four-year public institutions of higher education. A scholarship to a four-year institution under the New Jersey HonorScholars Program would be applied toward the cost of tuition. A student would be eligible to receive a scholarship of $2,000 for each semester of enrollment.
Two categories of students would be eligible for a New Jersey HonorScholars Program scholarship to a four-year institution. A student who graduated from a county college and received a county college scholarship under the New Jersey HonorScholars Program would be eligible to receive a scholarship for the third and fourth academic years at a four-year institution. The student would be required to have attained a cumulative grade point average of at least 3.25 upon graduation from a county college. This student would be eligible for a scholarship for up to four semesters, excluding summer sessions. Also, students who graduate in the top 10.0 percent of their high school graduating class would be eligible to receive a New Jersey HonorScholars Program scholarship to a four-year institution for all four years. These students would be eligible for a scholarship under the program for up to eight semesters, excluding summer sessions.
To be eligible to participate in the program and receive a scholarship to a four-year institution, the student must:
- have an annual family income, both taxable and non-taxable, as derived from the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for the academic year, of less than $250,000;
- be a State resident pursuant to guidelines established by the authority;
- have applied for all other available forms of State and federal need-based grants and merit scholarships, exclusive of loans, the full amount of which grants and scholarships would be applied to tuition to reduce the amount of any scholarship that the student receives pursuant to the program;
- be enrolled in a full-time course of study and maintain a 3.0 grade point average; and
- maintain continuous enrollment in a full-time course of study, unless on medical leave due to the illness of the student or a member of the student’s immediate family or emergency leave because of a family emergency, which medical or emergency leave must be approved by the four-year public institution of higher education, or unless called to partial or full mobilization for State or federal active duty as a member of the National Guard or a Reserve component of the Armed Forces of the United States.
The bill also includes a grandfather provision that provides that a student who is receiving a scholarship under the NJ STARS Program and is in the first academic year of study at a county college on the effective date of the bill would continue to receive the scholarship in accordance with the law governing NJ STARS as it read prior to the effective date of this bill. Similarly, a student who is receiving a scholarship under the NJ STARS II program who is in the third year of academic year of study at the institution of higher education would remain eligible for a scholarship under the program in accordance with the law as it read prior to the effective date of this bill. The bill would take effect immediately and first be applicable to the 2017-2018 academic year.
NJPSA supports the measure.
Finally, the committee approved legislation, S-128 (Cardinale / Bucco), which would require institutions of higher education to provide greater assistance to certain students with military obligations.