NJ STARS Struggle to Shine

It is no surprise that the price tag that comes along with a higher education is quite a hefty bill. Many of our students in New Jersey search for financial assistance to help them attain a college education, whether in NJ or outside of the state. According to nj.com, many NJ high school graduates look to receive their college education in other states due to the high tuition costs that plague many NJ schools. In 2010, then president of Salem County Community College, Dr. Peter B. Contini stated that, “the general consensus was that 50% of college students who leave NJ for a college education, do not come back.” Source

To address the flight issue for high school graduates leaving the state to attend college, one step the state government took to keep students in NJ was the creation of the NJ STARS program. In 2004 the New Jersey Student Tuition Assistance Reward Scholarship program was established to financially assist the brightest NJ high school graduates attend community colleges in our state.

When the program began, it assisted high school graduates who were in the top 20% of their high school class to attend a NJ community college free of charge. The program is a blending of merit and “need-based” scholarship. Since its creation, the program has received a lot of criticism as the maximum household income for eligible students is $250,000.

The $7,000 NJ STARS scholarship could be spent on tuition, books, and required fees. In 2006, two years after the program began, the NJ STARS II program was unveiled; this program allowed NJ STARS students who completed an associates degrees with a 3.0 GPA (or higher) to continue receiving a scholarship to advance their education a NJ state school.

In 2009, the NJ STARS program suffered its first hit when the number of eligible students for the program was reduced from the top 20% of a high school graduating class to the top 15%. The NJ STARS II program also changed in 2009; the qualifying GPA to continue in the NJ STARS II program increased from 3.0 to 3.25. The scholarship amount changed too, it went from $7,000 per year to a fixed amount up to $6,000 for students with a 3.49 GPA. Only students who earned between a 3.5 and 4.0 GPA would be eligible for the $7,000 scholarship. The snowball of changes continued, and parameters of the scholarship were limited to only tuition coverage (no books or fees).

In 2010, Gov. Christie proposed increasing state aid $1.5 million for the NJ STARS program, however, if passed, that would have been the last of the state funding to support the program and the program would end when the $1.5 million was used. However, year-end budget changes in 2010, allowed the program to continue, with again, more modifications.

This past September, new terms were again signed into place for the NJ STARS programs. Students in the top 15% of their high school class are still eligible for tuition coverage for up to five semesters to attend their local community college. The price of books and other fees are still the responsibility of the student.

The NJ STARS II program will also continue with changes. Students can now use their NJ STARS funding to finish their education at one of NJ private colleges instead of solely at state schools. However, there has been a significant decrease in the scholarship funding. Students in the NJ STARS II program are now only eligible for up to $2,500 instead of the $6-7,000 some were receiving. In an effort to attract NJ STARS students, several NJ private schools, such as Seton Hall University, are offering to match the $2,500 NJ STARS scholarships with a $2,500 grant for students.

As reported by nj.com, the reaction to the latest changes have been mixed. Some students are highly disappointed in the decreased funding, others are grateful for the $2,500.

I personally think it would be interesting to see the breakdown of NJ STARS scholarship recipients based on household income. How much state funding was used to assist students in homes with incomes of $200-249,000? Is it fair that some NJ college students from homes with a household income much less than $100,000 receive a decrease in NJ STARS funding while those in homes with higher incomes continue in the program?

Let’s hear what you think – please comment below!

Michelle L. Brisson
Past-President, The Jersey Alliance

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