By Brian K. Bridges and David J. Socolow
The rising cost of getting a college degree was an issue long before the COVID-19 pandemic. New Jersey is easing this burden by investing in an innovative College Promise program, expanding Tuition Assistance Grants (TAG) and the launch of education savings and other affordability initiatives to help families and reduce the cost of student debt.
To build a stronger and fairer New Jersey, the Murphy administration has prioritized expanding access and affordability of post-secondary education to ensure that all who aspire to a college degree have equal access to high quality education. Working closely with our legislature, the administration has added new supports to students to enable them to pursue their life and career dreams, providing the educated and skilled workforce whose New Jersey economy has need.
One of the essential pillars of our College Promise program is the Community College Opportunity Grant (CCOG), which helps tens of thousands of students by offering college tuition-free. First introduced as a pilot in 2019, this program was codified into law by Governor Phil Murphy earlier this year. Students who once thought college was out of their financial reach can now earn an associate’s degree debt-free.
We are building on this success by creating a new four-year tuition-free pathway to a bachelor’s degree, through the Guarantee of the condition of the garden (GSG) included in the 2022 budget. Together, the CCOG and the GSG make up New Jersey’s College pledge, ensuring that students from families with adjusted gross incomes fail any four-year public college or university. Many students from families with incomes over $ 65,000 will also benefit from GSG’s sliding scale of guaranteed tuition reduction in their third and fourth years of enrollment.
Thanks to the New Jersey College promise, we clearly show the net price of college education to students and their families before they enroll, allowing students to focus on their education, lower student debt, and reduce the time it takes to graduate. .
New Jersey financial aid programs help students persevere until graduation; researchers found that eligible students who receive more money from the New Jersey needs-based TAG program are more likely to graduate on time. More than a third of New Jersey students receive the TAG and remain eligible year after year by making satisfactory academic progress. Governor Murphy and the Legislature provided a historic increase in TAG funding for the current 2021-2022 school year, dramatically increasing the dollar value of these grants for all eligible students.
By investing in student financial aid, New Jersey is making university more accessible and affordable, which is critical to closing the equity gaps that prevent students from low-income families and under-represented groups from ‘enter and thrive in college. New Jersey also supports immigrant families by providing state financial assistance to eligible undocumented students who grew up in Garden State, graduated from a high school in New Jersey, and now attend the University of the ‘State.
But we know it takes more than tuition aid to get students to graduate, especially those facing the biggest hurdles. To meet these needs, New Jersey expanded the Educational Opportunities Fund (EOF) for students from educationally and economically disadvantaged backgrounds. This vital program now supports nearly 15,000 students at 41 New Jersey colleges and universities through support services that go beyond financial aid, including tutoring, counseling, summer sessions and winter and leadership development. And this year alone, we’ve allocated almost $ 30 million in federal funding to colleges and universities for student support initiatives, including Campus Without Hunger Grants, child care, and mental health services.
To further help New Jersey residents avoid student debt, the new College Affordability Act includes incentives for families to save for college. With an initial deposit of just $ 25, families can open a NJBEST 529 university savings account that grows tax-free. Now, eligible New Jersey residents can receive a dollar-for-dollar matching grant up to the first $ 750 they contribute to open a new account. The law also provides for up to $ 10,000 in contributions to an NJBEST account deductible from New Jersey state income taxes. Students who are beneficiaries of NJBEST accounts can also receive a scholarship of up to $ 3,000 towards the cost of studying at a state higher education institution.
At the same time, New Jersey is helping residents with outstanding student loans with a new tax deduction, low-cost refinance, and affordable repayment options for New Jersey College Loans to Help State Students (NJCLASS) borrowers. The College Affordability Act provides up to $ 2,500 in principal and interest paid on an NJCLASS loan deductible from state income tax. NJCLASS now offers low-cost refinancing for pre-existing student loans, reducing their interest rates to 2.99%. And for borrowers who are having trouble making payments, the Repayment Assistance Program and Affordable Family Income Repayment Program are now available to all borrowers with standard NJCLASS loans.
New Jersey has dramatically increased its investments in higher education, which will spur innovation by making a post-secondary degree more accessible and affordable. By helping more students pursue successful career paths in our innovation economy, these bold initiatives will support a fair and inclusive economic future for all New Jersey residents.
Dr. Brian K. Bridges is the Secretary of Higher Education for New Jersey.
David J. Socolow is the executive director of the New Jersey Higher Education Student Assistance Authority (HESAA).
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