Sen. Cunningham Talks College Affordability

New Jersey boasts the fourth highest college tuition in the nation. Our graduates saddled with an average debt of $27,000. A state Senate committee has just passed a comprehensive plan aimed at making college more affordable and student debt less onerous. The 10 bill package is the product of The College Affordability Study Commission. Committee chair State Senator Sandra Cunningham is a sponsor and spoke with Anchor Mary Alice Williams.

Williams: Thank you for being with us. Can you unpack the 10 bill package for us?

Cunningham: Well you know there’s a whole lot in that 10 bill package but we’ll try.

Williams: The one where you can get through a four year college in three years. Let me ask you specifics about some of them. Notably the first one, the three-in-one, the three in community college, one year at a four-year. What’s going to have to happen for four-year colleges to accept transfer credits in a major from a community college.

Cunningham: Yeah, you know that’s a pretty ambitious bill — it is one that a lot of our students around the state like the idea of. It’s not for everyone.

Williams: And not for every major.

Cunningham: And not for every major, but whatever happens there has to be an agreement between the secretary of higher education, the president of both colleges — both four-year and of course two-year — and they have to agree on the curriculum, the program and also they will have to make sure that there are 300 level courses so that you’ll still have people with their doctorates teaching you and it will all have to be agreed among with both parties.

Williams: And four-year college in three years is not as difficult?

Cunningham: Right, not as difficult.

Williams: Have you heard from any of the colleges and universities at all? Have you heard any push back from this?

Cunningham: Let me tell you that they’ve been, we went through this at the higher education committee last week, we had some people testify. There are some people who have made some complaints. I know you are out of academia, you certainly know this, but we have agreed for those bills that people have been really pushing back on that we’re going to at least sit down with them and talk about amendments and talk about how we can make it work.

Williams: State funding has been cut 23 percent since 2008. If this relies on the funding to be restored to 2007 levels does your package of bills rely on increased state funding?

Cunningham: No, it does not. We’re looking at TAG, we’re looking at EOF — that’s the natural or whatever amount that the student would normally get. That’s what they are going to be relying on.

Williams: What are the chances of this getting through the Senate?

Cunningham: Well, some of the bills, a few of the bills, will get through easier than others but you know I think we have to remember the Senate president put together this student or college affordability commission to look at ways that we can help our students to graduate. Not trying in any way to hurt or slow down any of the colleges, especially the four-year colleges, but to give our students the opportunity — those who qualify and those who want to do it — a way to go to college and perhaps to get out faster if they can or less expensive.

Williams: All right thank you for being with us Senator.

Cunningham: Thank you.