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This Is How NJ's Next Scientists And Engineers Can Reduce Their College Debt | Opinion
4/27/2023 |
Andrew Zwicker Special to the USA TODAY Network

I don't know who will be New Jersey's next Edison, Einstein or Beatrice Hicks (my favorite engineer), but I do know that any New Jersey student who wants to go to one of our great universities should be able to do so regardless of their family's income.  And I know that when we invest in our future scientists and engineers, we are not just investing in things like the next breakthrough in cancer care or renewable energy, we are investing in our future. While Washington, D.C., politicians debate whether it makes sense to help our young people reduce their debt, here in New Jersey we are doing something about it that is a win-win for all.

More and more, the race to fill slots in fields such as electronics, biotechnology, computer chip manufacturing and renewable energy is a highly competitive one. If we in New Jersey want to keep pace, we must not only lighten these prospective high-tech workers' financial loads, but also partner with top-line innovation companies to make sure they stick around to help our state grow and prosper.

According to the Education Data Initiative, the average New Jersey college graduate has about $36,000 in debt, but there is a new program to cut $8,000 off that debt for science, technology, engineering and math graduates who stay and work in New Jersey.

This program got off the ground in 2018, and I was proud to be one of the lead sponsors of the legislation when I served as a member of the General Assembly. Now, the first group of graduates is eligible to apply for debt relief.  

The program is straightforward: Graduates of New Jersey colleges and universities employed in high-growth STEM fields receive $1,000 each year for a maximum of four years toward paying off their state and federal student loans, an amount that will be matched, dollar for dollar, by their New Jersey employer. Participants receive up to $4,000 from the state and a matching $4,000 from the employer.

When we all invest in higher education, we are all made stronger. New Jersey's world-class STEM degree programs continue to shine as they deliver world-class talent and a highly skilled workforce. We need to make sure any student with the interest and drive to enter one of these fields has every opportunity to do so.

Local employers benefit by building a qualified and loyal employee base. The graduates who take on these high-demand roles have an added incentive to live and work in New Jersey.

And, of course, there is our economy — this initiative creates a full-circle approach to growing a modern, innovation economy that allows New Jersey not only to keep competing with the rest of the world, but to lead the world.

I don't know what the next great discovery will be — a cure for cancer, a new source of clean energy like fusion, or a self-driving car — but I want to make sure that whatever it is, it comes from a New Jersey graduate working in New Jersey.

The STEM loan redemption program is administered by the state's Higher Education Student Assistance Authority. The application and eligibility details about participation can be found online:

State Sen. Andrew Zwicker represents New Jersey's 16th District and is a scientist and educator at Princeton University's Plasma Physics Laboratory.