Higher-ed issues front and center

TRENTON – Higher education issues will be plentiful in the Statehouse Annex on Monday, and not just because the fledgling Senate Higher Education Committee will drop the gavel for the first time.

Three Senate committees – Education and Economic Growth are the other two – will consider bills that involve higher education to some extent.

But most eyes will be on the new Higher Education Committee, chaired by Sandra Cunningham, (D-31), Jersey City, where college and university officials from around the state have been invited to testify in general about various issues facing the field.

In addition to the invited guests, the committee also is scheduled to consider Cunningham’s S874, involving revisions to the NJSTARS college scholarship program.

Under this bill, the NJSTARS scholarship will cover just tuition, not tuition and fees. And NJSTARS II will be broadened so that students can use the money to attend an independent institution, not solely a public institution.

In addition, the NJSTARS II provision that ties the scholarship amount to a student’s grade point average would be changed. The minimum 3.25-grade point average will be maintained but scholarships would be $1,250 per semester.

Steven Rose, president of Passaic County Community College and a member of the N.J. Presidents Council, said the NJSTARS bill has gone through a lot of changes to reach a point that he said all parties hopefully can live with.

In the past, he explained, it was not unusual for this program’s specifics to remain unsettled until the budget was completed in late June, making students wait a long time for definitive answers.

But if things progress as expected, community college students will be able to advance to four-year institutions with $2,500 scholarships, and they can still receive free community college tuition, he explained.

“NJSTARS has been a great program for community colleges,’’ he said.

There are other bills up for consideration as well.

In Economic Growth, S1027 is on the agenda. This would extend by 18 months (to Aug. 1, 2013) the deadline for submitting to the state Economic Development Authority applications for a private concern to build and maintain a revenue-generating facility – such as a dormitory – on a campus.

In Education, there is S1026. This would have Richard Stockton College set up a 36-month teacher preparation pilot program for armed forces veterans for the twofold purpose of addressing teacher shortages and reducing the unemployment numbers among veterans.

And the Higher Education Committee probably will hear testimony on another issue that college and university leaders consider pressing: the need for a bond issue to fund new facilities.

Paul Shelly, spokesman for the N.J. Association of State Colleges and Universities, said the need is critical. There has not been a higher education bond issue since 1988, and the results can be seen on campuses.

He said that in the past two years there have been roughly 58,000 applications from 25,000 students (many students apply to multiple schools) for an estimated 12,000 slots.

“There is far too little capacity,’’ he said.

In addition, earlier last year, officials told lawmakers that schools are losing top teachers to other states due to outdated facilities.

The rest of the Higher Education committee membership includes Nellie Pou, (D-35), Paterson; Paul Sarlo, (D-36), Wood-Ridge; Thomas Kean, (R-21), Westfield; and Robert Singer, (R-30), Jackson.

Previous coverage:

Higher-ed officials urge bond issue for capital projects

  Higher-ed issues front and center