New Jersey offers low-income students at Rutgers more financial aid than federal government

<p>According to the Washington Post, New Jersey is one of only a few states where state aid is more readily available to students than federal grants.</p>

According to the Washington Post, New Jersey is one of only a few states where state aid is more readily available to students than federal grants.

Low-income college students and families in New Jersey are offered more financial aid from New Jersey than from the larger federal grant program, according to a Washington Post article.

Most states provide significantly less than the federal program does. 

Carl E. Van Horn, a distinguished professor in the Department of Planning and Public Policy, and the director of the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development, said that this is primarily a policy choice based on the high cost of college in New Jersey compared to most other states.

“For decades we have had what is known as a ‘high tuition, high aid’ public policy. In other words, tuition is high, but so is the aid for low and moderate income students,” he said.

Despite the high tuition costs, Rutgers and New Jersey provide several key resources for low-income students, he said.

“There’s the Tuition Assistance Grant Program (TAG), which is the largest, and has been in place for decades, as has the Education Opportunity Fund (EOF) – these programs have grown over time and these programs are to provide tuition support, “ he said. “There’s also other programs to support people that go to community college, tuition free, for four years, called the N.J. Stars Program, and about 25 years ago there was something added called the NJCLASS Program, which is a supplemental loan program which helps families and individuals who don’t qualify for federal loans," Van Horn said. 

The Federal Pell Grant Program provides aid to students based on their financial need, the cost of attendance at a particular educational institution, status as a full-time or part-time student and plans to attend school for a full academic year or less, according to the United States Department of Education.

According to the Federal Student Aid Office, an extension of the United States Department of Education, the maximum amount a student can receive from the Federal Pell Grant Program for the 2017-2018 award year will be $5,920.

“The Pell Grant program does provide support of low and moderate income people, but that doesn’t completely cover tuition costs. The state policymakers are aware of the federal policy, so what we’re trying to do is supplement them to make sure we keep access available,” Van Horn said.

Executive University Director of Financial Aid Jean McDonald-Rash said that because grant programs on both the federal and state level are having a hard time keeping up with increasing costs, it’s very important for students to pay attention to these issues and to access grant programs as they complete higher education.

“University-wide, generally about 33 percent of the undergraduate population qualifies for Federal Pell Grants, and about 26 percent are eligible for a New Jersey Tuition Aid Grant, but the New Jersey Tuition Aid Grants have a higher dollar value than Pell grants do," she said.

Without the assistance of state aid in combination with federal grants, college would be unaffordable and therefore largely unattainable for low-income students and families, Van Horn said.

“That’s obviously one of the reasons why state policymakers over decades have had these programs because they want students to get a college degree – it’s good for the families, and it’s good for the state economy,” he said.

Without the assistance of both grant programs, if low-income students and families qualified for and took out loans, they would run the risk of accruing significant debt that would be very difficult to pay off as a student just entering the labor market, Van Horn said.

“The other thing that happens when the cost of going to school is very high is a lot of times students will borrow money, then they can’t afford to keep borrowing money, so they quit – they drop out, they get a job and then they have a debt anyway,” he said. “One of the worst things that could happen is borrowing money but not actually getting the benefit of the borrowing because you haven’t completed a degree.”

Fortunately, there are many resources for students, particularly on the Rutgers financial aid and student accounting websites, that help to educate students and help them keep track of their financial situations as they advance through college, McDonald-Rash said.

“I think it is one of the points of pride New Jersey has, that we have done more than most other states to keep access open to first generation students, and low-income students,” Van Horn said. “We could always do more as a state but relative to other states, we have done quite a lot.”

Emma Fletcher is a School of Arts and Sciences junior. She is a contributing writer for The Daily Targum.

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