Bills to control college costs approved

Proposals to cap college tuition and fee increases at 4 percent, and encourage colleges to develop undergraduate degree programs that cost no more than $10,000 were among several bills designed to control college costs that were approved by the Assembly Higher Education Committee Monday.

Other bills approved by the committee would expand Tuition Aid Grants to part-time students at four-year colleges, require students to complete a course in financial literacy, and create a state office of student loan ombudsman.

The tuition cap bill, A552, is sponsored by Assemblywoman Nancy Pinkin, D-Middlesex.

Assemblymen Troy Singleton D-Burlington and Jamel Holley D-Union, sponsored bill ACR-114 in response to institutions of higher education in other states, including Texas and Florida, taking measures to make college more affordable by developing $10,000 baccalaureate degree programs.

Tuition and fees at a four-year public college in New Jersey currently average about $13,000 a year, or more than $50,000 for a four-year program.

Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, D-Bergen, sponsored bill A2276 to require all public college students to take a financial literacy course that would cover budgeting, debt management, taxes, savings plans, and investments.

The state Department of Education already requires high school students to receive instruction in financial literacy as a graduation requirement.

Bill A-2138 would expand the Tuition Aid Grant (TAG) program to part-time undergraduate students who are enrolled in an eligible four-year institution in New Jersey. Under the current program, tuition aid grants are awarded to full-time undergraduate students as well as part-time students enrolled at county colleges for 6-11 credits.

Bill A-1670 would create within the Department of Banking and Insurance the Office of the Student Loans Ombudsman.

The bill provides that the ombudsman will:

Receive, review, and attempt to resolve any complaints from student loan borrowers;

Compile and analyze data on student loan borrower complaints;

Assist student loan borrowers to understand their rights and responsibilities;

Provide information and make recommendations to the public agencies, legislators, and others regarding the problems and concerns of student loan borrowers;

Analyze and monitor the development and implementation of federal, state and local laws regulations, and policies relating to student loan borrowers;

Review the complete student education loan history for any student loan borrower who has provided written consent for review;

Disseminate information concerning the availability of the Student Loan Ombudsman to assist student loan borrowers; and

The Student Loan Ombudsman, in consultation with the commissioner, would establish and maintain a student loan borrower education course that would include educational presentations and materials regarding student education loans.

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