NJ STARS II harms higher education

Most of us were probably shocked to learn of Gov. Jon S. Corzine’s car crash in April. The governor’s SUV was travelling 25 mph over the speed limit and he wasn’t wearing a seat belt.

This lack of judgment prompted critical remarks from commentators and citizens alike.

How could a man of high intelligence and capability (a former CEO of Goldman Sachs and a former senator) display such a profound lack of judgment?

Corzine’s lapses aren’t confined to the Garden State Parkway. They permeate the College’s campus and, if not addressed, will undoubtedly undermine the College’s continuing trend of excellence, as well as the state’s prosperity in years to come. The source of trouble? NJ STARS II.

Once approved, NJ STARS II wasn’t met with nearly as much indignation as was Corzine’s motor vehicle trouble. Rationalized as a means to provide lower-income families with more higher-education resources, and to encourage New Jersey’s best high school students to attend state colleges, the program has turned out to be, with respect to these ends, evidently counteractive.

It works as an extension of former Gov. James McGreevy’s 2004 plan that provided a free path to an associate’s degree for students who graduated in the top 20 percent of their high school classes.

NJ STARS II expands upon this and allows these same students, if they maintain a 3.0 GPA, to attend four-year state schools, free of tuition charge, should they be admitted.

The problem is that tuition at four-year institutions is rapidly rising, and the state only provides $2,000 per semester to fund participants. The college or university is forced to pick up the remaining bill.

Moreover, the New Jersey Association of State Colleges and Universities (ASCU) reported that the Outstanding Scholar Recruitment Program, which provides merit-based aid to the state’s best students, will be phased out amidst state education budget cuts.

The program, a way to keep New Jersey’s brightest students in-state for college, isn’t offering merit-based aid to students who may not be eligible for financial aid, (this is particularly common in New Jersey, which boasts a median family income of $74,000) causing them to leave the state to receive an education.

The East Coast has an abundance of premier colleges and universities, and since most offer generous merit packages to high-achieving students, they will readily opt for out-of-state options. New Jersey loses more college-bound students than any other state (about 26,000 per year), and NJ STARS II is only going to make the problem worse in years to come.

And the program isn’t even significantly helping low-income families. According to ASCU, “the scholars’ family median income of $71,000 is very close to the New Jersey median family income: $74,000.”

An under-funded state program (much like the disastrous federal “No Child Left Behind”) is eating up institutional funds and giving the College less autonomy in allocating its money to continue to attract premier students.

This will undoubtedly make a degree from the College less prestigious in years to come, since the College won’t be able to set high admissions standards because top students could instead attend out-of-state schools that offer them the merit aid they deserve and earn.

Additionally, low-income students clearly aren’t the beneficiaries of NJ STARS II, another program oversight.

The biggest concern, however, will be the program’s impact on the state’s economy. Opposition to NJ STARS II doesn’t require an institutional vantage point.

This begs the question of why the program was implemented. The ASCU (of which the College is a member) clearly opposes the measure.

NJ STARS II, although well intended, is a flawed program. Yes, the program is intended to help low-income students, but on the whole, is detrimental to the state’s entire higher education system and, in years to come, New Jersey’s economy.