By Star-Ledger Editorial Board

For millennials in a cruel economy, a bachelor’s degree is hardly optional. College grads earn better salaries, and are less vulnerable to unemployment and poverty. Higher education is grotesquely expensive — particularly in New Jersey — but the cost of not going to college is worse.

Pity, then, the double-barreled misery of students who start college but don’t finish — leaving school with crushing debt but no degree. New Jersey colleges turn out thousands every year.

These kinds of hard-luck cases inspired two Democratic lawmakers to introduce a 20-bill package they say tackles the problem from both ends: controlling college costs and ensuring more students get degrees.

The legislation, by Assembly Higher Education Committee Chair Celeste Riley (D-Cumberland) and Assemblyman Joseph Cryan (D-Union), is touted as an all-encompassing fix for college affordability and accountability. It falls short of its optimistic billing.

A few of their proposals are intriguing, such as freezing tuition for nine semesters after a freshman enrolls to stabilize costs across a four-year degree.

Some are pie-in-the-sky, such as legally mandated caps on textbooks and meal plans.
And some are nonsense, including the “death penalty” bill that would shut down a school if half of its students can’t graduate in six years. Enforced today, the law would put Kean, William Paterson and New Jersey City universities out of business.
In 1990, the state covered two-thirds of a Rutgers education. By 2013, students paid two-thirds.

Instead of a solution, this collection of bills takes a scattershot approach to 20 small problems that, even as a group, don’t address New Jersey’s overarching failure — the state’s financial neglect of its colleges and students.


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