Assembly bill appears aimed at shuttering Kean

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A bill before the state Assembly would force the closure of public colleges with a six-year graduation rate of less than 50 percent, seemingly making Kean University one of its targets.

UNION, NJ  — New life is being brought to a bill in the state Assembly that would close any public university or college with a six-year graduation rate of less than 50 percent for full-time undergraduate students.

The measure would apply to at least two public universities in the state: New Jersey City University and Kean University, said Steve Young, executive director of Council of New Jersey State College Locals.

“We’re against this bill,” Young said in a phone interview. “We think it’s a bad policy. There are many reasons for students to take more than six years to graduate.”

The bill was reintroduced by state Assembly members Nancy Pinkin, Mila Jasey and Joe Danielsen. None returned to requests for comment via phone and email.

The bill calls for the state secretary of higher education to develop a plan to close four-year public colleges that don’t achieve the graduation benchmark. The plan would also include the secretary recommending that Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools revoke the accreditation of any university that doesn’t meet the six-year graduation rate.

Middle States is an independent agency headquartered in Philadelphia, and Young said the agency would probably not comply for that reason.
“I think there are more factors that need to be looked at before losing accreditation,” Young said, adding, “Middle States isn’t going to be bound by something the (state) Legislature does. Middle States has its own accreditation process.”

Students who enrolled full-time at Kean University between 2007 and 2011 had six-year graduation rates just below 50 percent, except for the year 2009. That year, slightly more than half of the students graduated in six years, according to institutional data from the university.
The four-year graduation rate at Kean is even lower, with only about 20 percent of full-time students who enrolled between 2007 and 2011 graduating in four years. Less than 43 percent of students graduated in five years in the same cohorts.

“Kean takes pride in helping our students follow the most direct path to graduation while also balancing their work and family obligations,” Kean University spokesperson Karen Smith said in an April 5 statement.

In 2017 Kean had an undergraduate population of about 13,700, with the majority of students being racial minorities. About 25 percent were Hispanic, 19 percent Asian and 17 percent African-American. About 29 percent of undergraduate students were white, according to university data.

Kean President Dawood Farahi has touted the school’s accessibility to students who are the first in their families to attend college.
The university accepted 82 percent of freshman applicants in 2017, and 94 percent of transfer students were accepted, public data show.
For comparison, Montclair State University had similar tuition costs to Kean’s, but accepted only about 66 percent of freshman applicants and 82 percent of transfers in fall 2017, public records show.

Of 16,800 students enrolled in 2017 at MSU, about about 28 percent were Hispanic and 13 percent were African-American, the university reported.

At NJCU, about 39 percent of students who enrolled in 2011 graduated within six years, according to institutional data from that school.
Cohorts for full-time students at William Paterson University between 2007 and 2011 at times had six-year graduation rates under 50 percent and never above 55 percent, institutional data from the school show.

The reintroduced bill says the state secretary of higher education can use their discretion to allow a school additional time to meet the graduation benchmark if it were making “sufficient progress” toward achieving the rate.

The legislation, just under two pages in length, does not address how a shuttered university would handle displaced faculty, staff or students.
“The closing procedures shall also include, but need not be limited to, plans for managing the existing funds, liabilities, and assets of the institution, including distribution or transfer of fixed tangible assets, real property, buildings, facilities, equipment and fixtures,” the bill reads.

The bill is nearly identical to one that was first introduced in 2014 by former Assemblyman Joseph Cryan, who is now a state senator representing Elizabeth, Hillside, Roselle and Union for District 20. Cyran was an outspoken critic of Kean University during his time in the Assembly and he now has several higher education bills in the Senate.

The first iteration of the bill passed in the state Assembly about four years ago, but died in the state Senate Higher Education Committee.
The latest version of the bill is headed to the state Assembly Higher Education Committee, which Jasey chairs. She has also sparred with Kean University officials in the past regarding proposed layoffs to student services.