Falling Economy Forces Change in NJSTARS Scholarship

by Megan O’Callaghan

The New Jersey Student Tuition Assistance Reward Scholarship, known as the NJSTARS, is a scholarship funded by the state government that has helped many deserving New Jersey students attend community college over the past years. To be considered for the NJSTARS program, a student must be in the top academic tier of their high school class. As a result of the economic times, the funding for the scholarship has been decreased, resulting in tougher eligibility standards.

Previous to 2008, students in the top 20% of their high school class were eligible to enroll in their community college for fifteen credits per semester for completely free tuition. As of fall 2009, students must have graduated top 15% of their high school class to receive the scholarship. However, the top 15% can register for eighteen credits at no cost to the student.

Mary Wipkey, an advisor at Camden Catholic High School works closely with the NJSTARS Program. “The new program makes sure only the most deserving students receive the scholarships,” says Wipkey. “Every year there is a large percentage of students included in the NJSTARS who have to be removed from the program because they can’t keep up their grades.”

The credit restrictions have caused delays for some students. Christina Chillem, a second-year journalism major at Camden County College, graduated in 2008 from Camden Catholic High School in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. She is among the many NJSTARS students that began her academic endeavors prior to the program changes being signed into law. Therefore, she is still limited to fifteen credits per semester at no cost.

“Last year, I had two semesters of fifteen credits each paid for by NJSTARS. This year, I cannot take only fifteen credits and expect to graduate; I will be short two credits,” says Chillem.

Chillem’s options are to take a winter course, a summer course, or to take two additional credits in the spring 2010 semester. NJSTARS would not cover any of these options. NJSTARS does offer a fifth semester, where Chillem could finish her degree.

“This is great for someone who is not quick at keeping up with school. But I don’t want to waste time. I am enrolled for six classes for the spring 2010 semester. I will be paying for each of the two extra credits,” she says.

Why are 2008 high school graduates limited to fifteen credits per semester when 2009 high school graduates can take eighteen credits? One may wonder.

“Although the program covers a maximum of fifteen credits per semester, the top 20% of graduates in this class can take advantage of NJSTARS, versus only the top 15% under the revised program. In essence, an addition 5% as a member of the 2008 graduating class can utilize NJSTARS. In certain circumstances, remedial courses are also paid for these recipients, a benefit that was removed for future participants,” says Ed Reynolds, manager of the NJSTARS program at Camden County College.

Changes were also made to NJSTARS II program. This part of the program follows enrolled students from their community college to their selected four-year transfer school.

Prior to the 2008 NJSTARS change, students could receive their bachelor’s degree for free as stated on the Burlington County web site. The state of New Jersey would grant $4,000 per student with a GPA of 3.0 or higher, and the four-year institution would cover the rest of the cost. The student would not be required to contribute any financial costs towards his or her tuition.

Currently, the maximum amount of NJSTARS scholarship funds given to a qualified student towards their four-year state school is $7,000 per year. According to the NJSTARS Fact sheet, on the scholarship program’s website, a student who receives this amount must achieve their associate’s degree with a 3.5 GPA or higher. Students who achieve their associate’s degree with a 3.25 to 3.49 GPA will only receive $6,000 per year.

“After hearing that I would no longer receive full tuition, I considered continuing the NJSTARS program not even worth it. I looked at schools in New York City and Philadelphia, for better journalism programs. I didn’t feel restricting myself to New Jersey State schools was worth $7,000. I guess ultimately, I decided it is, but I am much less enthusiastic about it,” Chillem says.

With the state involved in extreme deficits, changes had to be made in order to keep the program in existence.

“During these economic times, it’s good to know that there is still a terrific, state-sponsored scholarship available to our best and brightest high school graduates!” Reynolds proclaims enthusiastically. “There were proposals on the table to cancel the program, even as NJSTARS enrollment continues to grow, a testament to the severity of the economic crisis.”

The changes have made effects among students’ future plans.

As Chillem explains her interest in Rutgers University and Rowan University, the “$7,000 will not cover the tuition for either of these schools. My parents are witnesses to the shock and worry that flooded my head when my four-year college plan fell to pieces. I am now planning on living at home for another two years. I’ve worked hard my entire academic career. It doesn’t even feel like a scholarship; it feels like a prize that no one wanted me to accept in the first place. However, when I put things in perspective, I’ve earned two free years of an excellent community college education. That is a true blessing. I don’t take it for granted.”

Leave a Reply