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By Steve Sweeney – Guest Writer

If you’re reading this, chances are that you already are all too aware of the suffocating debt students across New Jersey face after they attend college, whether receiving their diploma or not.

The statistics are grim: nationally, the average tuition cost for four-year public colleges has more than tripled over the last three decades. Student loan debt is currently more than $1 trillion, with 37 million Americans shouldering that debt.  The average student graduates with $26,000 in debt in an economy with diminished job prospects – a toxic combination that contributes to more than 7 million former students across the country defaulting on their loans.

But what you may not know is that as president of the New Jersey Senate, I’ve begun the conversation about how we can try to reverse this troubling trend and help students like you get a diploma without the heavy burden of student debt that often forces your hand when making career choices.

And I’m asking you not only to join the debate but assist in the solutions by sending your suggestions to me at Twitter — @njsenatepres.  Students working their way through college trying to create more opportunities for themselves should not be drowning in debt.

We cannot continue to emphasize the importance of obtaining a higher education while at the same time putting huge financial roadblocks in the way of students who seek one. – Steve Sweeney, N.J. Senate President

For our college graduates to compete in a global environment, we need them to take the risks necessary to succeed. Unfortunately, too many graduates suffer from mounting student debt that stifles career opportunities and forces them to settle for a job just to ensure they are paying off that debt. New Jersey can set a national model for fixing the current unsustainable system of student debt.

That’s why I have fought for a “College Affordability Study Commission” to look at out of the box ideas that maintain the high standards college graduates should demand while not saddling them with onerous debt following graduation.

The college affordability crisis is reaching its high point, with higher education loan debt now the second-leading debt burden for Americans under age 35, trailing only home mortgages.

We know that our students today will not be able to find the good-paying jobs they need to succeed without a strong higher education, but when they do find those jobs they’re forced to enter the workforce with debt loads that continue to hold them back.

Under one of the proposals, known as the “Pay Forward, Pay Back” plan, students would have the option of delaying the payment of tuition and fees for enrollment at public institutions of higher education and instead allow students to pay back a percentage of their income upon graduation for a certain number of years. The money would be paid back interest-free, eliminating one of the biggest costs of the current tuition system.

 Oregon is actively studying a similar system, for which it hopes to implement a pilot program in 2015. The proposal calls for students to pay 3 percent of their salaries over a 24-year period. We eagerly await Oregon’s findings.

When we unveiled our plan, we were joined by two students who shared their stories about how difficult it is to pay for and attend college in New Jersey with the current cost of tuition. One student was attending community college and wanted to transfer to either Rutgers or Rowan.  Despite her academic success, she was unable to afford the cost of going to either university. She had to drop out of school in order to work full time so she could save up enough money to hopefully go back to college. Another student is working full time to make ends meet, a situation that makes trying to attain her double major all the more difficult.

Their stories are not unique. We can find them in every town and on every college campus in New Jersey. We cannot continue to emphasize the importance of obtaining a higher education while at the same time putting huge financial roadblocks in the way of students who seek one.

“Pay Forward, Pay Back” may not hold all the answers, but it will certainly get the conversation rolling on the issue of tuition costs.

It’s easy to say, “This won’t work” or “That won’t work.” The one sure thing that won’t work is to continue on the path we’re on.  Any options that may help ease the burden of college expenses on New Jersey families and allow more students to pursue college aspirations are worth exploring.

I am committed to continue fighting to make college more affordable and to address the overwhelming debt burden in New Jersey.

College affordability is a conversation that we must have now. Education is the great equalizer. It represents the opportunity for a more prosperous, successful and fulfilling life. We may not have all the answers right now, but as New Jersey Senate president, I can assure you that I will be asking the questions.

Steve Sweeney, president of the New Jersey Senate, represents the Third Legislative District.  Join the effort today @njsenatepres.

 

 

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By The Drew Acorn Editorial Board

We were happy to see a large turnout and student interest in the recent Student Government presidential election. This year’s SG general election was one of the most contested we’ve seen in several years. As Frank Merckx, Dean of Campus Life and Student Affairs, said, election complaints are not uncommon in such highly contended elections. As an organization that must observe students and campus happenings, we at The Drew Acorn are ecstatic that passion for democracy is being revived.

However, with that being said, we are concerned about the controversy which began immediately after the election and has only just been resolved. The conflict surrounds numerous complaints made by different candidates on several violations of the SG election statutes, including a violation of vote by proxy. We understand that in any given election passions may flare. We do not mean to target anyone specifically, and we have been glad to see incredible passion in this election, but the issue of proxy voting in this SG election is by far the most persistent issue that came out of this controversy.

Article V.E.4. of the SG election statutes states that any candidate or person who supports a candidate cannot “loiter and/or persistently attempt to influence voters at a polling station.” Physical polling stations were located at the Commons and Brothers College. However, Moodle, an online website, is also a polling station, albeit a non-physical one. The recent SG controversy begs the question, what happens when a SG candidate or supporter of a candidate influences voters, knowingly or unknowingly, through the use of technological gadgets like a tablet. To carry a tablet and physically solicit votes from students,, by opening the Moodle web page on the tablet ,could very well influence the voting decisions of students. Yet, the election statutes make no mention of the conduct of candidates and their supporters concerning the Moodle election web page and its designation as a “polling location.”

As college students whose worlds are often consumed by the use of technology, we should know more than most the increasing significance of technology. This election showed us all that technology is a significant part of the SG election process and is increasingly so. But without a clear statute that recognizes the importance of technology in the voting process and addresses certain issues that may arise because of it, SG candidates and their supporters can technically operate in a gray area that may keep them being held accountable for any potential conduct violations concerning online voting. It is imperative that SG address this and set a precedent for future SG elections if it is to maintain its legitimacy and respect among the student body.

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The  Feb. 21 Drew Acorn cover article “National Controversy Fuels Over Adjuncts” spotlights an issue that has been of great concern within academic circles for many years, so I would like to thank the Acorn staff for covering this important topic.  However, I would also like to dispel certain misimpressions the article might have left with some readers.

The article attempts to make its point by contrasting adjunct faculty treatment, workload and compensation with those of full-time faculty.  This has the possible unfortunate effect of misleading readers in two ways.  First, the article suggests that only adjunct faculty have recently suffered reduced pay or benefits at Drew.  In fact, full-time faculty salary and benefits have also been either reduced or frozen, and workloads increased, for many of the last five years.

Second, and more importantly, the article might have misled readers into thinking that full-time faculty and adjunct faculty are at odds with each other over this issue.  This is emphatically not the case.  In fact, Drew’s chapter of American Association of University Professors (AAUP), a national organization of university faculty established in 1915 to promote and safeguard the integrity of the academic mission and the fair treatment of those professionals who have made higher education their life’s work, has continually been a strong supporter of increasing adjunct pay and improving adjunct benefits and working conditions.  That includes vocal criticism of the cut in adjunct pay noted in the article.

Chris Apelian is a professor in the dept. of mathematics & computer science, and Drew AAUP Chapter Steering Committee member.

 

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The snow days have confused our schedules enough, and the administration’s attempt to deal with them has heaped more confusion on us.

Last Wednesday, students were advised to go home so as not to be on campus when a large storm hit the next morning. It would seem that waiting out a storm on campus would be safer than driving home and then driving back in the next one or two days. So, not surprisingly, those students who did go home had trouble coming back for classes on Friday. Since Friday classes were held after 10:30, many students found themselves unable to attend class and without an official excuse. And it was because they took Drew’s advice in travelling home.

The second issue is the new way of making up classes that was not even announced by email to the students: having classes on multiple Saturdays throughout the semester. Some people have weekend plans already made while many others simply will not show up. Why a week could not be added to the already-short semester, we do not know. That has been the usual way of making up for lost time, and it seems far superior given people may have weekend plans that now must be cancelled in a week or two.

Admittedly, there are much more serious issues to gripe about, and losing a couple of Saturday afternoons is hardly the worst thing that could befall us. But this, combined with telling students to go home ahead of a major storm, is a notably poor way of dealing with something fairly commonplace. After Sandy and the Snowpocalypse, we know Drew can do better.

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By Ivana Mitic – Staff Writer

Most of the student body can agree that Drew puts on a great show to attract the incoming crowd of INTO program visitors and freshmen, but why not keep the campus in great shape all of the time? As spring semester approaches, Drew has gotten out its bag of tricks to show visitors how great a campus we have. Students on campus have been raving on about how we only see these improvements in the campus when we receive visitors. But why can’t these improvements be permanent? Why not have a campus that is great instead of one that just looks great on certain occasions?

But why can’t these improvements be permanent? Why not have a campus that is great instead of one that just looks great on certain occasions?

The Commons has definitely been a prime example of the improvements Drew has been making for this past week. The Commons has been serving great food, even using nicer bowls, and having more employees dressed up working in the Commons, when in reality we never see this happening. The Commons and the Drew student body have been at constant war for years over wanting better food. This week we did get better food, but it was for the purpose of pleasing Drew’s visitors, not its full-time student body and staff. Students who pay an extremely costly tuition should be in this improved environment, not just get a glimpse of it when the school puts on this façade.

Another improvement is that the paths have—just in time—been plastered with banners of Drew pride. The students find them to be great for the campus since they show Drew pride, but was this only put up for the purpose of pleasing visitors?  As a freshman myself I can say that when I came for Full Impact Day last year I was amazed by the campus. Last year, Drew showed hundreds of potential incoming students and this magnificent image of the campus, and now we can see the deterioration of this so-called perfect campus.

 Like any college campus, Drew University wants to put its best foot forward and show all of the greatest aspects of the campus. The point is that the façade of a magnificent school needs to become a reality. We are a campus filled with great students and staff who need to be appreciated. Improving our campus when future investments are at stake is important, but we should not have to do this. The show Drew is putting on is nice while it lasts, but it will soon fade. The campus should always be at its best.  Then the positive buzz about Drew will speak for itself. There won’t have to be a huge preparation or improvements on campus because it will already be held up to a high standard.

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Ivana Mitic is a freshman at Drew University.

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