U.S. Senator Bob Menendez visited Union County College’s Cranford Campus on Friday morning, joining administrators and students in a forum on the ever-rising rates of student loans and how current legislation will make college tuition more affordable.
In front of a largely occupied Student Commons at UCC, Menendez stressed the importance of creating the “most highly-educated generation of Americans the nation has ever known.”
“The world in which you are living in now is much different than the world in which I grew up,” the Senator said. “I am the first of my family to go to college, but only because the power of the federal government in Pell Grants and Perkins Loans and Work Study to get me to St. Peter’s College and Rutgers Law School in Newark. I would not be one of 100 United States Senators in a country of 314 million people but for that opportunity and I want that to be a birthright for every American who has the opportunity and ability to work hard to achieve it.”
Others on the panel echoed Senator Menendez’s sentiments, sharing personal trials and tribulations they faced in seeking higher education. Senator Raymond Lesniak (D-20), who served two years in the United States Army (1967-69) and later attended Rutgers University under the G.I. Bill, stated no citizen should have to serve in the military to go to college.
“What Senator Menendez and I are doing in Senate is to make sure college is affordable for every single person who wants that opportunity. I’ve known the Senator for decades now, and when he latches on to an issue, he delivers. He doesn’t let go until he delivers to you,” Lesniak said.
“Today I can sit here and I am proud to say that opportunities that were given to me, or doors that were opened for me, are someday going to be given to you,” Assemblyman Jerry Green (D-22) added, noting he struggled after losing his father at age four. “Trust me, once we get into the front office, one of the number one items on my agenda is to make sure when you graduate, you don’t have any debt.”
Menendez is a co-sponsor of the Reducing Educational Debt (RED) Act. Introduced in January, the RED Act’s list of resolutions include: taming the student debt crisis by waiving community college tuition for eligible students, set the maximum Pell Grant award to adjust to inflation, and significantly reducing interest rates on student loans after refinancing.
Union County College President Margaret M. McMenamin reiterated the importance of reducing student debt, sharing the accomplishments of UCC and crediting the Board of Trustees and the school’s Financial Aid Advisor Dayne Chance.
“We’re the first community college, and still the only community college in New Jersey to create a flat rate tuition for full-time students. You take 12 credits, you take 15 credits, you take 18, you pay the same amount. We are not only committed to affordability, we also want to help students get to graduation,” McMenamin said. “We have just straight, transparent tuition, no general fees.”
Menendez also invited Megan Namnama, a student of Montclair University, and Cassandra Wernock, a former Union County College student, to detail the dedication of earning a four-year degree while holding a job.
Caption: Freeholder Chairman Bruce Bergen, Freeholder Bette Jane Kowalski, Senator Robert Menendez, and President McMenamin