By Brittany Gaston
CCC Journalism Program
The NJ STARS college tuition program has changed a lot in the past eight years leaving students to question its existence in the future.
The New Jersey Student Tuition Assistance Reward Scholarship was created in 2004 as a scholastic scholarship, offering free tuition and fees to students who graduate in the top 20 percent of their high school class.
The follow-up to NJ STARS is the NJ STARS II program, which allows a student to continue their education at one of 12 state colleges.
The economic decline in 2008, forced Gov. Jon Corzine to limit the program. Now to qualify, a student must be in the top 15 percent of the class, and school fees will not be covered.
In 2010, Gov. Chris Christie proposed a temporary increase in funding for the program, with the understanding its end was near. Christie abolished all other merit-based scholarships due to lack of budget money.
According to the American Association of Community Colleges, 46 percent of students attending a local community college rely on financial aid.
Of the 46 percent of students: 13 percent rely on state funded aid, the association said.
This number seems small, but taken out of 20 million students, it can mean the difference between a student attending college or not.
Melissa Quinter, a former NJ STARS student, started at Camden County College in 2004. Quinter went on to Rutgers Camden to complete a degree with the aid of NJ STARS II.
“ It was the same type of atmosphere as when I went to Rutgers. So, it’s really no different,” she said. The program allowed her to get a comparable, inexpensive education, and she has recommended NJ STARS to other students since.
“It’s (NJ STARS) one of the many important tools in providing for an affordable education to New Jersey’s high school students,” said Ed Reynolds, head of CCC’s NJ STARS department. “The anxiety for students to obtain funding is at a record high.”
According to Reynolds, in 2004 there was a spike in enrollment at CCC, but has declined recently due to program changes. The peak was in 2009 with 381 students.
Even without state funding, he said, county colleges like CCC continue to improve their standards and keep costs low to students.
Despite changes to NJ STARS, Reynolds remains resolute.
“ Higher education has many purposes…improved job related earnings and increased critical thinking,” he said.