Lawmakers consider plan to make N.J. colleges more affordable, accessible

    New Jersey lawmakers are considering a five-bill package intended to make attending The College of New Jersey and other colleges in the state more accessible and affordable. (AP file photo)

    New Jersey lawmakers are considering a five-bill package intended to make attending The College of New Jersey and other colleges in the state more accessible and affordable. (AP file photo)

    With the average student loan debt in New Jersey hovering around $32,000, lawmakers are considering a five-bill package intended to make college more accessible and affordable.

    The goals are making sure students understand the financial implications of their college choices and increasing their ability to complete their education, said Assemblywoman Mila Jasey, chairwoman of the Higher Education Committee.

    “We talk about going to college from day one,” said Jasey, D-Essex. “But we also need to talk about what happens when you finish college and are you actually being prepared for a career that will support you throughout your life and allow you to pay back your loans.”

    Assembly Budget Committee chairman Gary Schaer said one of the proposed measures would require the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority to establish an income-driven repayment option for borrowers.

    “The federal government has the recognition of affordability. Their number is 10 percent of discretionary income,” said Schaer, D-Passaic. “We think the state should follow in suit with state loans as well.”

    Another bill would forgive up to $6,000 in loans annually for up to three years for graduates entering careers the New Jersey Department of Labor deems in demand.

    The legislation also would allow high school juniors and seniors to take up to six tuition-free college credits a year at community colleges, Schaer said.

    “This would give them a college experience, let them more clearly refine and define what their interests are,” he said. “By getting those 12 college credits free, it would also help them financially as well.”

    Making college more affordable will help ensure New Jersey has the talent to attract employers, he added.

    The proposals would reallocate existing state funds without creating new burdens for taxpayers, said Schaer.

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