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Rutgers students discuss tuition, student debt

Some students say they are only able to work during the summer months because of how busy they tend to be during the academic semesters.
Photo by Photo by Salma HQ | The Daily TargumSome students say they are only able to work during the summer months because of how busy they tend to be during the academic semesters.

Students afford the costs of Rutgers through parental support and their own efforts, but they say that Rutgers could provide better financial support for students.

Diane Balint, Rutgers Commuter Student Association (RCSA) president and School of Arts and Sciences senior, said she saved money by studying at a community college for two years, commuting for her four years as an undergraduate and working on and off-campus.

“(It) offer(s) a wide variety of on-campus jobs to students,” Balint said. “I think Rutgers can make improvements with (its) tuition payment plans. It should look at other colleges and universities and see how they assist students and their families.”

Fianna Hertzog, a Mason Gross School of the Arts first-year, is enrolled in the Rutgers University Tuition Payment Plan. She said her family struggles to make the monthly payments on time.

“Paying it isn't the problem,” she said. “I feel like it's paying it when they want us to pay it, is a really big problem.”

Students enrolled in a payment plan pay in the middle of every month, according to the Rutgers Student Accounting, Billing and Cashier Services website. Hertzog said a later due date would be helpful in granting more time to save up for each payment.

Ali Khan, a Rutgers Business School first-year, said he has difficulty handling the loans he borrows for his out-of-state tuition. He said he worked approximately 20 hours a week during the summer to pay the loans.

“The loans that I'm taking out (are) a little overbearing to pay, even though it's only $3,500,” he said. “During school I have to focus, so I only have the summer to really make up all that money.”

Rutgers increased the cost of tuition by 2.9% for the 2019-20 school year, according to an article on Rutgers Today. But Aditya Palekar, a Rutgers Business School first-year, said the in-state tuition is still fairly affordable, especially if one commutes.

“In terms of tuition, they don't give much scholarship, but the tuition cost itself and housing, dorming, if you're living in the area, it's not too crazy,” he said.

Taylor Dua, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, said she avoided housing costs by commuting for her first three years.

“I tried to avoid student housing altogether just because it was so massively expensive,” she said.

Another way students said they bypass housing costs is by becoming resident assistants (RA) or apartment assistants (AA), who receive free housing. Alexander Nguyen, a Rutgers Business School junior, said his RA position combined with parental support covered all of his costs except for textbooks, which he covers with internships and scholarships.

“My parents have been saving up for both me and my older brothers for basically all of our lives,” Nguyen said. “So in terms of my undergraduate career, I won't be in debt at all. But if I decide to go to graduate school, by that time I'll probably be indebted.”

Yash Patel, a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences first-year, said his parents are also paying most of his costs, but he will eventually have to borrow large amounts of loans as a pre-medical student.

“It sucks,” he said. “Going out of college, I’m pretty much locking myself into more debt.”

Dua said she did not feel confident about paying her loans after graduation. She said she requested financial help from Rutgers last semester due to a change in family circumstances, but gave up because she was unable to fulfill the demands for paperwork on time between work and classes. 

“It’s difficult to get a straight answer or to get the help that you need,” Dua said. “You sort of have to go through hurdles to get it.”

Khan said he experienced difficulty getting a response on whether his scholarship can transfer between schools. He said he went between his advisor, the Office of Financial Aid (OFA) and the Rutgers Business School dean, who sent him back to OFA. No one knew the answer to his question.

“It makes me really worried,” he said, “If I lose my scholarship, I can't really afford to go to Rutgers.”

Khan said it would be helpful if there were more knowledgeable consultants he could go to.

Other students said Rutgers needs to re-examine its priorities in investment. Nguyen said much of Rutgers’ funds go into places of questionable importance. Athletics is one example, he said.

“We're not really the best in terms of athletics, and suddenly we're investing so much in football,” Nguyen said.

Rutgers spent a record $103.2 million during the 2018-19 school year on athletics, according to an article on NJ Advance Media.

Hertzog said more scholarships should go to students outside of athletics or the Honors College. She also said Rutgers charges arbitrary student fees. Her term bill included a fall transfer fee even though she was not a transfer student, amounting to $4,200 in dues outside of housing, meal plans and tuition. 

“$4,000 is a lot of money,” she said. “I would have been able to pay my (term) bill right away.”

The fees act as a stipend for athletes on scholarships, according to NJ Advance Media.

Nguyen said more funds should be allocated toward students who are less fortunate, but he thinks students should not be in debt going into college.

“People should plan early for college and hopefully decide on a college that will allow them to not suffer financially for a really long time,” he said. “And for me, Rutgers was a great option for that.”