Senator Sweeney and Cunningham Discuss Plans to Improve College Affordability

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College affordability, a topic often discussed at the tables of many family homes, was the foremost topic at New Jersey Institute of Technology’s roundtable discussion this past week. Senate President Steve Sweeney, Senator Sandra Cunningham, Senator Paul Sarlo, and Senator Ronald Rice joined NJIT President Joel Bloom, college officials, and NJIT students in a forum focused on The College Affordability Plan. Sponsored by Senator Sweeney and Senator Cunningham, the 11-part plan aims to make college more affordable for New Jersey students and their families. In speaking about college affordability, Senator Sweeney said, “We need to be doing everything we can to help all of our students succeed, and that includes students who are coming to an institution of higher learning without many of the advantages that their peers enjoy”.

Senators Sweeney and Cunningham, in proposing the College Affordability Plan, understand that making higher education available for everyone is a multifaceted problem, and have proposed multiple solutions that together will all hopefully reduce the cost of college for students. Of these solutions, three topics were especially at the forefront of discussion including the proposal to create Three-Year Degree programs, the extension of Tuition Assistance Grants, and the expansion of the Equal Opportunity Fund. As Senator Cunningham said, “We have to make attaining a higher education easier and more affordable for New Jersey residents and this bill package will remove the barriers that too often hold students back by improving dual enrollment options, and making sure that students understand their financial options and the long-term cost of their choices”.

The Three-Year Degree program is a bill that would allow four-year institutions to graduate students, focused and committed to their major and career, in three years rather than four. As stated by Senator Sarlo, a NJIT alumni, “An accelerated timetable to gain a degree can be a valuable option for some students. It can save money for students and their families without compromising the quality of their education”. The addition of a three-year degree program would be beneficial to those students who have a focused education and career goal and would allow them to reduce any possible debt and college expenses.

The extension of Tuition Assistance Grants to summer semesters would also aid students in reducing costs, since it would allow eligible students to apply leftover TAG funding towards summer courses and enrollment. This option would also better allow students to complete their degree programs in three years rather than four.

In addition to TAG, the expansion of the Educational Opportunity Fund program would also allow students with economic and educational disadvantages to meet college expenses not covered by TAG. These expenses may include, but are not limited to books and transportation. Additionally, EOF allows students to transition into college by providing counseling and supplemental resources.
Overall, as Dr. Bloom summarized, “College affordability is a very important and complex issue that must be addressed on two fronts. We have a responsibility to develop realistic strategies for keeping student costs down, but we also need to educate prospective students about the likely return on their investment”. Higher education should be available to all, regardless of circumstance and hopefully The College Affordability plan and this roundtable discussion have furthered the conversation and initiated solutions to achieve affordability.

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Ramya Kommidi

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