Rutgers—Camden expands student tuition program
Rutgers University—Camden hopes to help an increasing number of students attend college through their "Bridging the Gap" program.
The Bridging the Gap program pays for qualifying students’ tuition and general campus fees after state and federal need-based grants have been applied, according to the Rutgers University—Camden website.
Craig Westman, vice chancellor for Enrollment Management at Rutgers University—Camden, said Bridging the Gap, which was launched in Fall of 2015, developed out of the campus's desire to be more accessible to New Jersey residents.
“We realized that because of costs, a lot of New Jersey applicants who were accepted into Camden were opting to attend community college,” Westman said. “So we wanted to construct a program that would change this.”
For the Fall 2016 semester, Bridging the Gap offered grants to students whose families’ adjusted gross incomes (AGIs) were below $100,000, according to the Rutgers University—Camden website.
Westman said grant sums varied from one student to the next depending on their family’s AGI.
“If a student’s family had an AGI between zero and $60,000, Bridging the Gap would cover 100 percent of tuition and general campus fees,” he said. “If their AGI was between $60,000 and $100,000, the program covered 50 percent.”
Amendments to increase efficiency have already been made and will take effect in the Fall of 2017, Westman said.
Next fall, Bridging the Gap will offer 100 percent coverage to students if their AGIs are between zero and $60,000, and only 75 percent coverage if their AGIs fall between $60,000 and $80,000.
These AGI prerequisites are not the only stipulations for support from Bridging the Gap.
Westman said students hoping to obtain grants must also fill out yearly Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) forms, maintain at least a 2.0-grade point average and earn 30 credits every academic year.
Bridging the Gap has only offered support to the first-year class of 2016 thus far, but its impact on Camden students has still been significant.
Michael Sepanic, associate chancellor for External Relations at Rutgers University—Camden, said a larger first-year class size was probably the most discernible impact of the program.
Camden’s first-year class increased from 424 students in the Fall of 2015, to 667 students in the Fall of 2016, according to the Institutional Research Office at Rutgers University—Camden.
“This was a great deal of growth for our campus,” Sepanic said. “And moving the needle like that is exactly what Bridging the Gap is here for.”
In addition to a substantial rise in incoming students, Sepanic said the first-year class of 2016 experienced an upsurge in diversity as well.
“Compared to the Fall of 2015, we saw an 85 percent increase in African-American students, a 64 percent increase in Hispanic students and a 48 percent increase in first-generation students,” he said. “We were very happy about those figures.”
As of late, Rutgers University—Camden is not the only campus making an effort to assist its students.
Rutgers University—Newark’s Run to the Top Scholarship offers financial aid to qualifying students, while Rutgers University—New Brunswick’s RU-1st initiative provides intensive academic support to first-generation, low-income and underrepresented students.
Both support programs were created within the past two years.
James H. Whitney III, assistant vice chancellor for Undergraduate Academic Affairs at Rutgers University—New Brunswick, said he thought Rutgers had an obligation to offer increased support to its various student cohorts.
“As a public state university, Rutgers should make an effort to ensure that its student population is a reflection of the State of New Jersey,” Whitney said. “In order to accomplish this, the school has to make sure resources are offered to all students, regardless of their backgrounds or economic standings.”
Ideally, worries about paying for tuition would not play a part in a student’s education process, Whitney said.
“Everyone should be equally entitled to an education regardless of income,” he said.
Sepanic said students benefitted regardless of whether they chose to avail themselves of Bridging the Gap or programs offered in New Brunswick or Newark.
“Each campus has high-quality programs and amazing faculty,” he said. “And, in the end, you get the same impressive Rutgers degree.”
Nicholas Simon is a School of Arts and Sciences junior. He is a staff writer for The Daily Targum.