A new report from the Pew Research Center says college graduates ages 25 to 32 make an average of $17,500 more than their counterparts with only a high school diploma. For many, the value of a college degree is undeniable. But the soaring cost of college may soon also make a degree unattainable.

New Jersey college students graduate with an average debt of about $30,000 - if they graduate. More troubling are the students who borrow to pay tuition for years and never graduate. They are left with the debt, but not the degree.

Assemblywoman Celeste Riley, D-Cumberland, who chairs the Assembly Higher Education Committee, and Assemblyman Joseph Cryan, D-Union, have introduced a 20-bill package to try to address both the rising costs of college and an unacceptable dropout rate.

The package contains some good, common-sense measures. One bill would help high-school students become more college-ready in order to reduce the costs of remedial classes. Another would freeze tuition costs for students, so that they would pay the same rate for up to nine semesters.

But the bills don't go far enough to address the fundamental reasons for escalating tuitions - runaway college costs.

The most promising bill in this package is one what would revive the College Affordability Study Commission, approved by the Legislature last year but vetoed by Gov. Chris Christie in January. The commission was intended to explore different ideas for funding higher education, including an out-of-the-box plan that would wave tuition in exchange for a small percentage of students' future earnings.

But such a commission should also look at some other basic issues, including bloated college administrations and the outrageous salaries and perks of college presidents. It should, in fact, address the viability of the current college model. The four-year college experience - for so many students, equal parts biology and beer - has become a rite of passage. But is it really the best way to open minds or launch careers?

A new structure that makes better use of online classes and more closely aligns two-year community colleges with other institutions seems to hold more promise than patching the existing system.

Riley and Cryan's bills explore ways to control the costs of higher education as it is. Ultimately, the solution may require a radical restructuring of colleges and universities.


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