Senator Nellie Pou Comes to Ramapo College

Photo by Pauline Park

It is currently Higher Education Awareness Week and on Wednesday, the SGA and the Office of the President invited New Jersey Senator Nellie Pou to deliver a keynote speech. Sen. Pou is the Vice Chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee and serves the 35th District of New Jersey.

President Mercer and members of the Board of Trustees were in attendance.

Pou started off the main topic of higher education by noting the benefits of a college education.

“The fact is, a college degree remains invaluable,” she said. “The effects of a college education go a long way in terms of the economic opportunities that will open up to you with a little hard work.”

She continued, “For the younger generations, I can tell you that the benefit of a college education will propel you into a career-focused track … We are not just talking about working a job in the hopes of getting by. That is the difference of what we are talking about.”

Pou addressed the issue of student debt, which is directly connected to the current issues of higher education. She presented that the average student debt back in 2013 associated with a four-year education in New Jersey was $23,000.

She continued by pointing out that 68 percent of New Jersey graduates leave school with debt, which is the eighth worst rate within the nation.

Because of student debt, students often decide not to pursue further education, such as graduate school or law school. She also pointed out that student debt creates limitations.

“[Debt] stops younger people from building lives of their own when they have completed school. Things like buying a house, a car, seem impossible to the cloud of debt that tends to loom over a person during their entrance to the adult world,” Pou said.

Pou presented that the legislature is currently working on ways so more people have access to higher education while still being able to experience life, and praised Ramapo’s retention rate. She applauded the administration, faculty and staff for their successful efforts.

Pou announced that there are currently proposals to replace the current NJ STARS program with an NJ Honors Program. The future program would provide full scholarships to students who graduate in the top 20 percent of their class.

Another potential program would also provide a $6,000 annual grant to the students who graduate in the top 10 percent of their class, and are attending public institutions in New Jersey.

The legislature is also working on plans to allow county colleges to offer bachelor’s degrees in certain sciences. Pou pointed out the need to strengthen ties between county and four-year colleges.

Pou praised the high 90 percentage of Ramapo seniors who graduate with a job. She complimented Ramapo for offering significant numbers of jobs to their student graduates because she noted, “Studies show that college graduates are likely to find jobs where they go to school.”

Pou stressed the importance of keeping the best students in New Jersey, which the state has not done a great job of up until now. She believes that the initiatives that she presented “would certainly help to make New Jersey stronger by keeping our best students in New Jersey and guaranteeing an affordable college education that will keep our state’s workforce among the best educated in the country.”

“Our people are the best economic asset,” Sen. Pou stated.