TRENTON - A New Jersey Senate panel has taken the first step toward revamping a state-run college student loan program that critics claim is inflexible and predatory.

The Senate Higher Education Committee approved a measure Monday that would forgive NJCLASS student loans if the borrower dies, even if a parent or guardian co-signed the loan.

But parents and student borrowers who testified at a joint hearing with the Senate's Legislature Oversight Committee said much more needs to be done to fix how the state handles the loans.

Officials from the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority (HEESA) refused to testify before the panel.

Executive Director Gabrielle Charette tells News 12 New Jersey that the agency is reviewing its policies on loan forgiveness to see that they are "handling each case with the appropriate compassion."

Charette says that she would be willing to testify once those reviews are complete.

The loan program came under scrutiny after media reports focused on its stringent rules and aggressive collections process, which is much more restrictive than other states.

HEESA does allow for loan forgiveness when a student dies during the school period or in the six months after graduation.

The Associated Press wire services contributed to this report.