Lawmakers want to give a new look to an old problem – the extent and cause of the outmigration of New Jersey high school graduates to out-of-state colleges.

Sen. Sandra Cunningham, D-Hudson, called S-1228, which was endorsed Monday by the Senate Higher Education Committee, “a pretty good bill.”

“Whenever you can get information, you should try to get it,” Cunningham said. “And I think having a little bit better knowledge as to what’s really going on in the state is not a bad idea.”

Christopher Emigholz, vice president of government affairs for the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, said New Jersey’s outmigration problem is an issue with both young and old residents.

To encourage seniors not to move away, the state has voted to make for retiree income tax-free. Emgiholz said it makes sense to study why students leave for college, often never to return.

“Is it that New Jersey is a small state and there’s not a lot we can do about it? Maybe that plays some role in it,” Emigholz said. “Is it that we are not affordable enough in terms of going to college? Is it that we are not affordable enough to live here after you graduate? Is it that our colleges are not offering the right mix of classes and majors for our students? Are other states doing something better that we could learn from? That’s probably a big part of it, too.”

“I know that we probably will never get to the place where we could eliminate the fact that New Jersey outmigrates more than maybe other states because of the location and size of New Jersey,” he said. “But at the margins, can we start to make a difference? And any difference we make will start to help our economy, improve the workforce pipeline we have in the state. And our employers need that.”

Yonaton Yares of Cherry Hill said the so-called “brain drain” has long been an issue and that taxpayer money doesn’t need to be spent figuring it out.

“New Jersey schools don’t recruit. High schools are swamped in New Jersey by out-of-state recruiters. They put a ton of money. They want our students to leave. Our state’s Rutgers, Rowan, TCNJ hardly ever visit our high schools,” Yares said. “We don’t have to spend the money to know that. Just ask 20 high school guidance counselors and they can tell you they never visit their schools.”

The study envisioned by the bill would include a survey of high school students and guidance counselors and a review of the academic and socioeconomic characteristics of students who choose in-state and out-of-state colleges, among other things. It would be due 18 months after the bill becomes law.

A similar bill was passed 38-0 by the Senate in June 2018, then didn’t budget in the Assembly for the next year and a half and died at the end of that session.

“We do need to get this done,” said Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr., R-Union. “We need to make sure that we’ve got the best possible outcomes for New Jersey students.”

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