NJ legislation pushes for students to graduate on time
A new bill in the New Jersey State Legislature shines a light on college graduation, affordability and institutional accountability in the Garden State.
The state is high on the list, but additional years in college means more spending, loans and potential debt.
To address this, bill A322 — which would require certain undergraduate students to file degree plans and for public universities to develop graduation pathways — awaits decisions in the new legislative session, .
Assemblywoman Nancy J. Pinkin (D-18th) is the primary sponsor for the bill, and Assemblyman Joe Danielsen (D-17th) is third prime on it.
“We became involved and interested in the bill from an affordability point of view with college students,” said Wayne Dibofsky, chief of staff for Assemblyman Joe Danielsen.
He said that Danielsen and staff became a third sponsor after finding studies done by the Commission on Higher Education that showed the average student at a four-year college in New Jersey spends between five and a half to six years in school for a four-year degree.
Dibofsky said there could be many reasons — financial, health, personal or others — for why a student takes extra time to graduate. Either way, the more time a student spends in school, the higher their debt becomes.
This bill would serve as a way for students to move through college faster, making it more affordable and bringing more accountability to higher-education institutions, he said.
In an interview with the Targum, Courtney McAnuff, vice president of Enrollment Management at Rutgers, said these numbers are high, which reflects well on the students, but also showed that financial issues are what get students in trouble — and falling behind in a degree track can be a precursor to problems.
“If you’re not finishing 30 credits a year, you can’t finish in four years. Every additional year costs about $65,000 to $70,000," McAnuff said. "Forty-five thousand dollars in potential earnings and $25,000 indirect cost of school. Students often don't think about it that way but they are giving up a job."
He explained the Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP) required by the Office of Financial Aid states that financial aid recipients must meet both qualitative and quantitative standards to maintain eligibility for aid and complete the program within a limited timeframe.
Student's ability to stay on track, not just their GPA, can affect their financial situations.
Dibofsky said that taking extra time to graduate can be a good thing — if it is what students want — but that a lack of guidance, failure to graduate in four years and financial burdens can lose money for both students and the state.
“ ... That is why we have a high out-migration of students in the state of New Jersey,” he said. “Students who graduate high school can’t afford to go to our institutions because they’re more expensive, so they go to other states, and that’s loss of economic resources because those students tend not to come back.”
The premise of the bill may be applicable to many college students today, but it has a long road ahead if it is going to be signed into law.
He explained that the current legislative session, No. 218, is only in the second week of its session. In an average two-year legislative session, close to 30,000 bills are introduced, of which less than 7 percent make it through both houses and onto the governor’s desk, he said.
Bill A322 is in its early stages and still needs to make its way to the Assembly Higher Education Committee for a hearing. After which it goes to the New Jersey General Assembly floor where the speaker of the assembly has to bring it into deliberation.
Dibofsky said if it gets through the assembly, the process starts all over, and it has to go through the other house, the New Jersey Senate.
“Less than one half of one percent are signed into law,” he said.
The bill is new, but if others like it were to move simultaneously through both houses it could expedite the process, he said. That decision is up to the primary sponsor and what they want to do with the bill.
“As the third sponsor, we can’t take the lead on the bill,” Dibofsky said. “You know, it’s just procedurally wrong. We’ve had Rutgers students in before on bills that we’ve been second and third prime on, requesting us to help. We can do the best job we can, but you can’t go against a colleague.”
The bill's exact legislation, if it were to be signed into law, is not set, Dibofsky said.
He said that if it did become law, the next step would be a trip to the Commission on Higher Education. As it stands, the purpose of the bill is simply to move people through the higher-education system faster in hopes of saving students money and holding institutions more accountable, Dibofsky said.
"Once a bill becomes a law, you have framework for the intent,” he said. “The bill would then go to the Commission on Higher Education to draft regulations – the meat.”