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Rutgers-New Brunswick will offer free or lower tuition for students whose families make less than $100K

Rutgers University will promise students on its flagship campus that they will go to school tuition free if their families earn less than $65,000 a year under a new financial aid program introduced Monday that will also significantly decrease tuition for families that earn less than $100,000 a year.

The programme, called the Scarlet Guarantee, will be available to students on the state university’s New Brunswick-Piscataway campus starting this fall, officials said. An estimated 7,600 undergraduates — about 20% of the campus’ undergraduates — are expected to qualify for the program.

The new initiative is tied to the Garden State Guarantee, a similar program launched by Gov. Phil Murphy that will pay part of the cost of the Rutgers program starting this fall.

“This is going to be transformational for New Jersey students, especially those with financial need,” said Rutgers University–New Brunswick Chancellor-Provost Francine Conway.

Under the combined programs, undergraduates on Rutgers’ New Brunswick-Piscataway campus:

  • Will pay no annual tuition or fees for all four years at Rutgers if their families have an adjusted gross income of $65,000 or less based on their tax documents.
  • Will pay no more than $3,000 per year in tuition and fees if their families have an adjusted gross income of $65,001 to $80,000.
  • Will pay no more than $5,000 per year in tuition and fees if their families have an adjusted gross income of $80,001 to $100,000.
  • The programs do not cover the other costs of attending college. Students will still be required to pay room and board if they live on campus and pay for books, transportation and other costs.

At Rutgers, in-state tuition and fees are currently $15,804 a year for the average undergraduate on the New Brunswick-Piscataway campus. Room and board adds another $13,402 to the average bill each year to bring the total sticker price up to $29,206 a year.

Tuition has not been set yet for the 2022-2023 school year, when the Scarlet Guarantee program will go into effect.

The new financial aid program will cost about $24 million, including about $10 million covered by the state, Rutgers officials said.

The programs are not as costly for colleges as they may initially sound. They are all “last dollar” programs, which means students are still applying for taxpayer-funded state and federal grants and scholarships. Then, the colleges cover the “last dollars,” the term for any extra money the students need to pay tuition and fees each semester after they receive their federal and state financial aid.

Rutgers, which has one of the highest state university tuition rates in the country, regularly loses top students to other universities. New Jersey has also long ranked as the nation’s top exporter of college students because a high percentage of undergraduates chose to attend out-of-state colleges.

Rutgers officials hope the Scarlet Guarantee will persuade more students to stay.

“We’re competing for these students who would leave the state,” Conway said.

Rutgers-New Brunswick joins a growing list of other New Jersey colleges offering guaranteed free or lowered tuition for low-income and middle class students as part of the “free college” movement. Stockton University, New Jersey City University, Saint Peter’s University and several other schools have programs promising to cover tuition and fees for students with family incomes below $60,000 or $65,000.

Rutgers-Camden and Rutgers-Newark already have variations on the program with free tuition for students from families who earn less than $65,000 and reduced tuition bills for those who earn less than $100,000.

In New Jersey, which has one of the most generous state financial aid programs in the nation, many students from families that earn less than $65,000 a year would already attend college tuition free using existing state Tuition Aid Grants, federal Pell Grants and other aid. So, the colleges have to contribute little, if anything, to meet their free tuition guarantee.

Critics have said the “free college” promises can be misleading because students’ educations are not truly “free” just because their tuition is reduced to $0. Students are usually still responsible for paying for all or some of their room, board, books, transportation and the other costs of attending college, which could be $10,000 or more a year and still lead to lengthy student loans or family debt.

However, college officials say programs like the Rutgers-New Brunswick’s Scarlet Guarantee are helpful in making it clear to families exactly what tuition, if any, they will be responsible for paying for all four years of college. Additional scholarship or grant money may be available to cover non-tuition costs.

New Jersey already offers the Community College Opportunity Grant, which offers tuition-free educations at New Jersey’s 18 county colleges for students whose families earn less than $65,000.

Under a budget deal Murphy reached with fellow Democrats in the state Legislature over the summer, the new Garden State Guarantee Initiative will add a third and fourth year of tuition-free education for low-income students at all of New Jersey’s public four-year colleges next year, officials said. That will allow students in families that earn less than $65,000 to complete their bachelor’s degrees tuition free.

A sliding scale of additional tuition discounts for third and fourth year students will be available at all colleges for families with incomes higher than $65,000 starting in the fall under the program.

Rutgers is adding additional money to the state’s Garden State Guarantee to make it even more generous for the third and fourth year students on its New Brunswick campus with family incomes up to $100,000.

However, the new Rutgers-New Brunswick financial aid program has several caveats, officials said:

  • Only full-time students eligible for in-state tuition who are working on a bachelor’s degree qualify for the Scarlet Guarantee. Students must also keep up their grade point average to remain eligible.
  • The guaranteed free and lowered tuition only apply for years one through four of college. Students who take longer than four years to complete a degree or those in longer programmes, including pharmacy degree programs that take up to six years, will not be guaranteed the lower tuition after four years.
  • Graduate students are not eligible for the program, though students who transfer to Rutgers as undergraduates can qualify.

Students do not need to apply for the Scarlet Guarantee. They will automatically be considered based on their family income if they fill out the annual Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, each year, officials said.

Immigrants living in the country illegally, known as Dreamers, may also qualify for the new financial aid program, Rutgers officials said. They must fill out the New Jersey Alternative Financial Aid Application, a state financial aid application designed for undocumented immigrants, to be eligible based on their family income.

New students who got into Rutgers-New Brunswick for the fall semester will also need to accept their offer of admission by May 1 to qualify for the Scarlet Guarantee.

Des Walker, a freshman on the Rutgers-New Brunswick campus, said the new program will help ease some of the financial burden on students.

Walker, who is majoring in journalism and media studies, already receives federal and state grants and merit scholarships. But Walker still needed to take out a subsidized loan to cover the total bill for tuition, room, board and fees this year.

“I don’t want to spend the next 20 or 30 years paying back (loans) for my degree,” said Walker, 19, of Bayonne, who chose Rutgers last year over the University of California-Santa Barbara and the University of Arizona because of its financial aid package.

Rutgers will hold hour-long online information sessions about the Scarlet Guarantee program March 8 and March 24 at 6 pm A special session for transfer students will be help April 6 at 6 pm

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Kelly Heyboer may be reached at kheyboer@njadvancemedia.com.


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