A bill allowing college students in New Jersey to pay the same tuition for nine semesters in a row could become law.
In a 48-21 vote this week, the state Assembly passed the bill, one of a package of 7 that will lessen the burden of college costs passed by the lower house this week.
"The time for change in higher education has come," said Assemblyman Joseph Cryan (D-Union), a sponsor of the bills. "For the last 20 years New Jersey's families have been at the mercy of what I would say is an oligarchy of presidents of higher education who determine their financial future."
The bill would apply to all four-year colleges within the state, except for those with endowments of $1 billion or more, which currently only applies to Princeton University. Cryan said he did not include the school because they allow low-income students to attend tuition-free.
Those students who take off a year would be required to pay the same tuition as incoming freshmen upon their return.
Republicans typically opposed the bill, but none spoke against it on the floor. The measure is also generally disliked by colleges and universities within the state.
"Rutgers supports the goal of affordability, but we — like every other institution &mdsah; have very serious concerns about the unintended consequences of the legislation," said Rutgers spokesman E.J. Miranda. " While it may increase predictability, it will increase the cost of tuition for incoming freshmen by equalizing costs over four-and-a-half years
A second bill in the package would require for-profit colleges and universities in the state to graduate at least 75% of full-time four-year degree students in six years, or the same amount of two-year students within three years, or face having their license revoked.
"Access to college is all but meaningless if it's not followed up with a degree and decent job potential," said Assemblyman John Burzichelli (D-Gloucester), another sponsor, in a statement. "Holding these schools more accountable will help ensure they have the student's best interests in mind, not just their bottom line."
The other five bills would require an annual report by the New Jersey Educational Facilities Authority concerning the debt of all higher education institutions in the state; ask four-year schools to offer students "shopping sheets" with information pertaining to costs and estimated student debt; not allow colleges to require more than 120 credits for a bachelor's degree and 60 credits for an associate's degree; create a "reverse transfer" degree that would allow for up to 30 credits earned at a four-year institution to be able to be transferred to a community college; and to create a common course numbering list to make transferring easier.
Before the bills can become law they must also be passed by the Senate and approved by Governor Chris Christie. The bills are expected to be stalled at the Senate, as Senate President Stephen Sweeney made it known last month that he wanted to place a hold on the bills to allow for further study, as he is concerned that some of the bills may have "unintended consequences." Sweeney plans to create a legislative task force that will study higher education within the state.
Critics of the bills worry that the tuition freeze will cause an increased rise in tuition costs for subsequent incoming classes, as education officials look to cover rising costs with nowhere else to turn.
However, supporters believe the freeze will end up saving students about $10,000 total on their education.
"The present system is almost untenable for working and middle-class families," said Assemblyman Joe Cryan, the primary sponsor, in a news release. "Unless we find ways to make college more affordable and achievable, our higher education system will only serve to reinforce socio-economic inequalities rather than reduce them."