Study of college tuition alternative proposed in N.J.

The New Jersey Legislature is considering a measure that would set up a special commission focused on helping students afford college.

Based on a system in Oregon, the “Pay Forward, Pay Back” plan would allow students to attend college without paying tuition. They’d pay back a percentage of their salaries from the jobs they’d get after graduation.

Twenty-year-old Emily Kerr was a history major at Burlington County College, but dropped out of school because of high costs and the debt she already had.

“One of the most important things a young person can have nowadays is a college education,” said Kerr of Maple Shade. “Without it, you will not be able to flourish in a successful career. Unfortunately, the cost of tuition has risen to heights where we middle-class students cannot reach.”

Edison resident Maria Aziz, 21, says she’s been unable to get federal grants, and paying her college costs to attend Rutgers University is a struggle.

“I’ve had to pay everything out of pocket by myself. I’ve been working 40-plus-hour weeks just to try to cover my tuition,” the political science major said. “It’s been very hard, and I’ve been having to take summer classes so I can finish early because I can no longer afford tuition at Rutgers.”

Sponsors of the legislation say the plan they’re proposing might not be the answer, but it will begin discussions on how to deal with rising college costs.

“We can’t not talk about this now,” said Senate President Steve Sweeney. “It’s getting to a point where a higher education is so unaffordable and there’s so much debt burden on a young person, they really don’t get a chance to live the American dream when they get out of school.”

Assembly Higher Education committee chair Celeste Riley says a study commission would determine how to make sure students reimburse the tuition costs.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal