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A Look at New Jersey: The Quality Crisis at 4-Year Public Colleges

 Related: CNBNEWS THREE PART SPECIAL REPORT: Gloucester City Schools



by Tamara Hiler 

In an analysis of full-time, loan-holding students at America’s four-year public colleges & universities, Third Way found that a large number of institutions are failing to improve the lives of their students. Analyzing data from the Department of Education’s College Scorecard, we found that at the typical four-year public institution, less than half of students aren’t graduating, many aren’t earning sufficient incomes even years after enrollment, and nearly a quarter of students are unable to begin paying down their loans three years after leaving school. And in a measurement we developed called the mobility metric, which ranks how well these colleges do for students of low and moderate incomes, we found levels of achievement so abysmal as to call into question the very promise of higher education at many of these schools. These results are similar to findings uncovered in an earlier Third Way report that looked at the quality at four-year private, non-profit institutions, which you can access here.

While we recognize that this data is limited in its scope (it only captures first-time, full-time students who in most cases have taken out federal loans), it is still useful in providing a snapshot of the quality of these schools—especially for a typical student who intends to earn a degree from the same institution where they first enroll. The data below provides information on how well four year public institutions in New Jersey are doing for this cohort of students.  

New Jersey Findings

1. Chronically Low Graduation Rates for Students:

  • A student attending the average four-year public college in New Jersey has just over a 3 in 5 shot of graduating within six years, as at the average institution, the completion rate is 62.30%.
  • 8 out of 12 schools (66%)in New Jersey would be considered “dropout factories” under K-12 standards (they graduate less than 2/3 of their students).
  • Top and bottom performers (completion):
    • School w/the highest completion rate: The College of New Jersey (85.67%)
    • School w/the lowest completion rate: New Jersey City University (32.97%)

2. Poor Wage Outcomes for Loan-Holding Students:

  • At the average New Jersey four-year public school, over 1/4 of students earn salaries less than $25,000/year six years after enrollment (which is the expected earnings of someone with only a high school diploma).
  • At the average New Jersey four-year public school, 13% of students are unable to begin paying down their student loans within three years.  
  • Top and bottom performers (earnings):
    • School w/highest % of students earning >$25k: New Jersey Institute of Technology (80.71%)
    • School w/lowest % of students earning >$25k: New Jersey City University (62.62%)
  • Top and bottom performers (repayment):
    • School w/highest repayment rate: The College of New Jersey (96.11%)
    • School w/lowest repayment rate: Kean University (76.26%)

3. No Discernable Connection between Price and Quality:

  • The average net price to attend a four-year public school in NJ for students coming from family backgrounds earning $0-48k/year is $12,118.
  • Top and bottom performers (net price):
    • School w/highest net price: Rowan University ($21,300)
    • School w/lowest net price: Rutgers University-Newark ($8,212)

4. Pell Students are Underrepresented at Top Schools: 

  • New Jersey four-year public schools have 2% fewer Pell students on average (36.86%) than their national counterparts (38.23%). 
  • 6 schools in NJ take fewer than the national average of Pell students each year. 
  • Top and bottom performers (Percent Pell):
    • School w/highest % of Pell students: New Jersey City University (56.10%)
    • School w/lowest % of Pell students: Rutgers University-New Brunswick (31.05%) Note: this was the 4th lowest, the other 3 had insufficient Pell data. 


The following schools represent some of the best and worst actors in the state:

Poor Performers:

  • Rowan University—This school has the highest net price for students coming from families making less than $48,000/year in the country. The average student attending Rowan University pays $21,300/year—a price tag that is higher than the average private, non-profit institution.


Notable Exceptions:

  • The College of New Jersey—This school has the highest repayment rate for a four-year public university in the country. 96.11% of students are able to begin paying down their loans within three years.
  • New Jersey Institute of Technology—This school is in the top 10 for the percentage of students earning more than $25,000/year six years after enrollment. 80.71% of students meet this bar. This is notable because it is also one of only 5 schools in the top decile of earnings that takes an above average number of Pell students (38.98%). 
  • Rutgers University-Newark and Rutgers University-Camden—These two schools are 2 of 11 top-decile schools that take an above average number of Pell students:

The author Senior Policy Advisor for Education at Third Way