In battleground LD 3, calls for higher-ed affordability and minimum wage hike

By Bill Mooney

WESTVILLE – One week out from the election, the Senate President – labeled an ouster target by the GOP – joined an assembly of national educational and labor leaders to address one of the state’s major problems: The fact many New Jersey students can’t afford to attend college in their home state.

NJ State Senate President Steve Sweeney
NJ State Senate President Steve Sweeney
Last year, Sen. Steve Sweeney, (D-3), West Deptford helped spearhead the successful push for the $750 million bond issue to help higher-education facilities build state-of-the-art classrooms and labs.

Now he wants to help make it possible for N.J.’s future generations of young adults to attend those classes and use those labs.

National education and state labor leaders came to battleground LD 3 Monday to call for creation of a commission to conduct an in-depth, one-year study into college affordability and recommend programs to help New Jersey students.

The issue was personified by third-year Rowan University political-science/sociology double major Rachel Storch, who works minimum wage 25 hours a week at a grocery to somehow try and pay for tuition that is about $22,000 a year, as well as $500-plus for books, and $500-plus for housing costs.

She is starting to deal with the fact that her dream of postgraduate law degree schooling may not come true.

“I think about it every day, what I would do if I had to go a fifth year (just to complete her undergraduate schooling.) It’s an obscene amount of stress,’’ she said.

She is coping with “an astronomically high amount of student loan” debt while taking in about $181 a week.

“Students everywhere have issues. You want to get a job you love,” but instead, “you will get a job that pays the bills.”

New Jersey students graduate with an average of $26,000 in debt to repay.

The legislators said they want a commission to study the methods that could be used to help finance college and help students repay debt.