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State must help alleviate costs of education

Costs of dining, housing and tuition can be reduced to lessen expenses

The costs of higher education are getting ridiculously out of hand, and it’s not just because of the rising tuition. The expenses of everything else for students, from textbooks and materials to housing, present excessively and unavoidably high costs that place an even greater burden on students who are often in debt from the get-go. On top of that, even as a public university, Rutgers isn’t getting nearly as much support from the state as it needs to keep the costs of higher education somewhat affordable for New Jersey residents. 

Under a bill passed in the New Jersey State Assembly last week, all of the state’s colleges and universities would be barred from forcing students to buy meal plans. Princeton is the only college exempt from the proposed policy because of its “stellar graduation rate” and the fact that it allows lower-income students to attend for free. At Rutgers, first-year students who live in University housing are currently all required to buy at least the 210 Plan, which costs $2,293 per semester. Many students end up with myriad leftover swipes at the end of each semester because 210 trips to the dining hall is quite a lot for just 15 weeks. These swipes are non-refundable, and they do not rollover for use during the next semester. There is a lot of room in a student budget to save money on food, especially for those who don’t eat the roughly $10 to $15 worth of food three times a day provided by a meal plan. But right now, there’s no way for students living in residence halls to opt out of the meal plan — so either the system needs a serious reform, or students should be given the option to choose whether they want to pay for an entire meal plan.

The bill proposes that in addition to eliminating the policy that forces students to purchase meal plans, schools would be required to offer meal plans to students as balances on pre-paid cards that allow students to get a refund at the end of the year for any unused funds. The question is, would this save us money or just make it more costly? Meal plans can average out to roughly $10 to $15 per swipe, but if the items made available for purchase in dining halls are expensive, then it will just even out anyway. Another issue arises when it comes people who have special dietary restrictions or food allergies: Would gluten-free or lactose-free items, for instance, cost more? Dining Services certainly needs to reform, but it needs to be very carefully and thoroughly planned to make sure it actually saves us money. 

Several other bills were passed over the last month regarding higher education, including one that would freeze tuition at the rate that first-year students pay when they first come into a university. This would allow students to pay the same tuition for nine semesters in a row, which is pretty important. Students often plan out how to pay for school well in advance, and if the cost of tuition is constantly rising, it’s a lot more difficult to accurately plan for the future. The bill would also require universities to provide students with “shopping sheets” with information about costs and anticipated debt and for them to publish detailed information on their websites about tuition rates, graduation rates and other associated costs. These are all bills that will hopefully do a lot to alleviate some of the economic burdens of a college education, as well as help educate students about how to plan for the costs. 

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