With the rising cost of college tuition, getting a degree in higher education has become a major financial undertaking — one that the majority of students cannot afford. An estimated 70 percent of students today graduate with loans, according to CNBC, and it takes decades to pay those loans back. Based on the most recent data from the Pew Research Center, Americans currently owe $1.3 trillion in student debt.
As experts continue to debate how to fix the problem of exorbitant higher education, the governor of New Jersey, Phil Murphy, is offering up a solution — one that he promised on the campaign trail: free community college tuition. “This is something we’re really serious about,” Murphy, a Democrat, told a roundtable of constituents at Mercer County Community College last week. “I think it might be the best investment that I know of.”
Murphy’s plan involves $50 million in funding, which he intends — if the state’s Legislature signs off — to roll out over the next three years. He estimates that if the legislation passes in June, 15,000 new students can be enrolled for free at a community college in the state by January. The program would specifically target youth from underprivileged families, with a household income of under $45,000 a year.
Speaking with local press, one student voiced approval of the plan. “I feel like everyone should have the chance to go to community college for free,” Matthew Williams, a business major at Atlantic Cape Community College, told the Press of Atlantic City. The president of Williams’s school, Barbara Gaba, agreed. “[This] is the first step toward ensuring that all New Jerseyans will have access to the post-secondary education they need to be successful in today’s rapidly changing economy,” said Gaba.
Not everyone is enamored with the plan. In order to reach the $50 million needed, Murphy would need the Legislature to pass an increase in taxes, a move that some lawmakers find ridiculous. “No government-funded program is free. Taxpayers always pay the price and frankly, people in New Jersey pay far too much already,” New Jersey Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr., a Republican, said in a statement on his website. “I strongly believe we have to do more to make higher education more accessible and affordable for everyone, but we have to do it in a responsible way.”
On top of a rise in taxes, some people take issue with the demographic that the program targets, claiming that the lower-income group receives enough government assistance already. According to Bloomberg, over half of the 150,000 students currently enrolled in community college in New Jersey receive federal and state financial aid, as do two-thirds of students enrolled at four-year colleges.
For Murphy, this still misses the point. “Who died and went to heaven and said public education is free from K to 12 but not before K or after 12?” Murphy said earlier this month. “There are also kids in that system one could argue [that] don’t necessarily need free education, but they get it. I’m a big believer that education ought to be a right, not a privilege.”
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