N.J. needs to spend more on higher education, change student loan programs, panel says

New Jersey needs to spend more money on higher education, make changes to its student loan programs and allow for new ways students can more quickly earn degrees, according to a state panel.

The recommendations are contained in a report set to be released Wednesday by a commission charged with looking at ways to make college more affordable in the state, which has the fourth highest public tuition and fees in the nation, averaging more than $13,000 a year.

Senate President Steve Sweeney has called a press conference for Wednesday afternoon to release the report of the College Affordability Study Commission.

In a copy of the report obtained by The Record on tonight, the group calls on the state to spend $63 million more a year to fully fund a tuition grant program for low income students. 

It also calls for expansions in the NJ Stars program, which provides tuition for some of the New Jersey’s best students who stay in state. There is no pricetag attached to that recommendation but observers think that any more spending on the state schools will have to wait until Governor Christie is out of office in 2017.

Sweeney, a Democrat from Gloucester County, is expected to run for governor and the findings of the affordability panel, which he commissioned, may likely be part of his platform.

New Jersey has reduced state support to its colleges and universities significantly over the past decade, a factor in rising tuition.

But one faculty member of the commission, Tim Haresign of Stockton University, faulted the report for ignoring administrative bloat and wasteful spending at the schools. And he found flaws with the state’s decentralized system of higher education, which provides very little oversight of the public colleges and universities. 

In a dissent, Haresign cited “questionable spending,” including his own university’s botched purchase of a casino building in Atlantic City that it was unable to use.

“Even more troubling is the fact that at some institutions the rate of growth in management positions exceeds the rate of growth in full-time faculty positions,” he wrote.  Haresign represents the statewide faculty union,

The report called for innovations in reducing the time and cost of degeees, including ramping up dual enrollment opportunities for high school students to earn as many as 15 college credits during the senior year and the development of three-year bachelor degrees, which include summer attendance.

The panel is also promoting better coordination between community and four-year schools, where students could complete their first two or three years at the two-year colleges at a cost savings. It also recommended changes to the state’s college loan and savings plans that, among other things, would allow for tax deductions for both.

And it also called for more guidance counseling and financial literacy for high school students. The commission has held nine hearings statewide since its inception early in 2015, and its chair Frederick Keating, the president of Rowan College at Gloucester County, said the report provides a “roadmap” for greater college affordability in the state.

Original Article