TRENTON – All students at public colleges in New Jersey would be required to receive instruction on American government and civic engagement, if a bill endorsed by a Senate committee becomes law.

The bill, S857, would apply to the 14 public four-year colleges and 19 community colleges in the state. The requirement would take effect in the 2022-23 school year, as the proposal is currently written.

https://www.njleg.state.nj.us/bill-search/2022/S857

“Requiring college students enrolled at our state’s public universities to take a civics or American government course is a natural extension of the work we’ve already done,” said Sen. Troy Singleton, D-Burlington. “This will help ensure that our young adults become informed and engages citizens in our democracy.”

A 2021 state law requires civic instruction for middle-school students.

Candace Halo, a political science professor at the County College of Morris, said it’s important to teach American government to college students.

“Yes, they get it in middle school, but by the time they’re ready to engage as active citizens and participate, they’ve forgotten most of it,” Halo said.

“I could pull 15 students off of campus and I can guarantee to all of you, almost every time they won’t even be able to name the three branches of American government,” she said.

Fairleigh Dickinson University student Yonaton Yares opposed the idea, telling the Senate Higher Education Committee it would put an undue financial burden on students, as college courses aren’t free.

“There is a cost. There always is a cost to adding courses,” Yares said. “You are paying in to your tuition. This is not like K-12 education which is mandated by law and your taxpayer dollar feeds into it.”

Yares said the goal should be reducing requirements, not overloading them, so that it’s easier for students to graduate.

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Sen. Vince Polistina, R-Atlantic, voted against the bill, saying it’s unclear what it’s asking from colleges because it’s too broadly written.

“I don’t necessarily think that Trenton politicians should be mandating what colleges start to teach,” Polistina said. “And two, what in the world – what’s a class on civic engagement? I don’t even know how we’re going to meet that.”

Michael Symons is the Statehouse bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com

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