anne_mikolay_120In his ongoing effort to clean up the financial mess left by Governor Corzine, Governor Christie has proposed ending the New Jersey Student Tuition Assistance Reward Program, or NJ Stars. This is sad news for New Jersey's gifted students and financially strapped parents.

NJ Stars is a scholarship program offered to high school students who graduate in the top 15 percent of their class. The scholarship covers tuition and fees at nineteen community colleges. Eligible students must complete a rigorous series of high school courses determined by the New Jersey Commission on Higher Education, and must register for a minimum of 12 college credits each semester. Students who maintain a 3.25 grade point average are eligible for the NJ Stars II Program, which covers tuition at participating public four year-colleges in New Jersey. In a recent letter to the Asbury Park Press, Margaret McMenamin, Acting President of Brookdale Community College, said: “Governor Chris Christie blotted out the NJ Stars Program with his thumb. He has proposed that no incoming freshmen be accepted into this program. By doing this, the state receives a drop-in-the-bucket savings of $1.7 million in a $29.3 billion budget.”

All New Jersey residents are painfully aware of New Jersey's budget crisis, but come on! How does snatching $1.7 million away from promising young people (future voters, by the way, Governor) help solve New Jersey's financial woes? Closing the NJ Stars Program might place a college education out of reach for some students, or push some students out-of-state in pursuit of a reasonably priced college education (if there is such a thing). Talk about a brain-drain! Wouldn't it be wiser to do everything possible to keep academically oriented, high achieving students here in New Jersey, where they will, hopefully, better their local communities and their state in the future?  Closing NJ Stars, in effect, turns away today's talented youth, a valuable resource New Jersey can ill afford to lose.

Rather than ushering its students out-of-state or into debt, New Jersey should be doing all it can to attract students to its community colleges and universities.  NJ Stars, introduced in 2004 by Governor McGreevey, promised an education to hard-working, dedicated students, and opened up a wealth of opportunities that some never thought possible. It is cruel and unnecessary, I believe, to end this program. Ms. McMenamin summed it up very well in her letter to the Asbury Park Press: “To the thousands of this year's high school seniors who continued to keep their grades up and work hard for the community college scholarship, the governor delivered a message to you on March 16: Stop studying and stop dreaming of bettering your life through a college education.” Perhaps Ms. McMenamin's words are a bit harsh, but her point is very well taken. Governor Christie might as well have said: “To the thousands of this year's high school seniors who continued to keep their grades up and work hard to qualify for NJ Stars, sorry, kids. The piggy bank is empty. Look elsewhere.”

I know Governor Christie has to find more money for the budget somewhere. I know he can't please all of the people all of the time. But children should come first. How many ways can he say “we don't care?” How many ways are there to snatch away a young person's dreams?