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So what does business have to do with the heavy burden of student debt? It’s a question that policymakers should look at as they tackle the issue of affordable higher education.
Businesses have a vested interest in having a pool of well-educated workers, so when it comes to ways to reduce the debt burden on students, we should look at leveraging businesses’ need for a skilled workforce.
The affordability issue was front and center on Monday as the Senate Higher Education Committee posted several bills in line with the recommendations made by the New Jersey College Affordability Study Commission. During the committee hearing, I offered several different strategies for making a post-secondary education more affordable. One of them was providing incentives to drive business tuition assistance programs as a way to help pay for student loans.
I pointed out that employers are likely to recruit future employees from colleges and universities, and could be willing to offer assistance with student debt to help them land the best candidates.
“New Jersey ranked the ninth highest state in the country in average student loan debt, almost $31,000 per borrower last year,” I testified. “At the same time, businesses continue to see the value in helping employees pay for education to boost morale, retain employees and create a skilled labor pool. Tuition assistance programs and helping paying off student loan debt are additional ways employers can help students with the cost of higher education.”
In other words, the state could encourage businesses to offer this benefit by allowing them to take a tax deduction on the money they contribute to employees’ tuition or student loan payments.
To read my complete testimony, click here.
Making New Jersey’s higher education system more affordable is going to take a comprehensive approach; there’s no one magic solution. We need to use stackable credentials and flexible learning to make it more cost-effective to complete a degree or certification. We should also employ greater accountability through outcome-based funding and finding efficiencies. Not only would these concepts help students and parents, but they would allow our higher education institutions to innovate and find new ways to grow while meeting the needs of the business community.
It’s encouraging to see how lawmakers are tackling the cost of higher education. New Jersey is not alone in this problem, but our reliance on a highly skilled workforce makes it more important to businesses here, and they are ready to contribute to the solution.