TRENTON, N.J. – The Assembly passed a bill (S2055/A3722), mostly along party lines, to provide state student financial aid to prisoners today. Assemblyman Ron Dancer said this puts law-abiding students and families struggling to pay for college at a disadvantage.
“It’s shameful that Democrats would prioritize prisoners over the needs of hardworking families in this state and make them compete for funding to help with the overwhelming costs of college,” said Dancer R-Ocean). “Taxpayers who can’t afford to send their own children to college without burdensome loans now have to foot the bill for incarcerated individuals who broke the law. It is unfair.”
Under the bill, prisoners would be eligible to receive state-administered student grants and scholarships.
“First and foremost, we need to do something for the law-abiding citizens who can’t afford college in New Jersey,” said Dancer.
New Jersey has the fourth-most-expensive in-state college tuition, and student debt more than doubled in the past decade – now standing at more than $43 billion. Since 2005, the cost of a four-year state degree increased by over $8,000 and a private degree by nearly $16,000.
College courses are currently offered in seven of the state’s nine correctional facilities through the New Jersey Scholarship and Transformative Education in Prisons Consortium, or NJ-STEP. A group of colleges, working with the DOC and State Parole Board, provide faculty and classes. About 550 students are currently enrolled. The program is funded through private grants and eligible students receive federal aid from Pell grants.
The Senate passed the bill in June 2018. It passed the Assembly today with a vote of 42-27-1 and is expected to be signed by Gov. Phil Murphy.