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Commission meets to discuss college affordability

By Matt Green                                                                                                                Correspondent

The College Affordability Study Commission recently held a public hearing at the College to discuss potential improvements to the affordability of college tuition and providing financial aid for New Jersey residents.

On Wednesday, Nov. 18, in the Business Building Lounge, concerned students, parents and members of the public were encouraged to come and voice their opinions at the meeting. Many individuals even traveled significant distances to share their perspectives and personal experiences with paying for higher education.

Created as the result of a law enacted in February 2015, the commission is responsible for “examining topics such as the state’s student loan program (NJCLASS), the state’s 529 college savings programs (NJBEST), accelerated and affordable degree programs, a Pay It Forward Pilot Program and any other proposal that may make college more affordable in New Jersey,” according to the New Jersey Association of State Colleges and Universities (NJASCU).

Frederick Keating, the president of Rowan College at Gloucester County and chairman of the College Affordability Study Commission, explained the agenda for the meeting. The commission would first hear testimonies from current college students, many of whom have struggled with affording higher education. Then, it would move on to a presentation from the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority (HESAA). After that, the commission would resume listening to attendees’ inputs and conclude with a presentation from Guided Pathways to Success.   

The board seemed confident in the financial aid programs that currently exist, such as the Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) and HESAA, deeming them helpful and effective. Reinforcing the commission’s certainty in these projects, some students explained how EOF, HESAA and similar financial aid programs have made it possible for them to attend college and be successful.

“I am so grateful for the EOF program, especially the one here at TCNJ,” said Olivia White, a junior urban childhood education and sociology double major. “Without their financial support, I would not be in college, but what I think is equally important is the emotional and academic support they provide.”

White’s first two years of college were paid for as a result of the EOF Promise Award, the N.J. Tuition Aid Grant (TAG) and the Federal Pell Grant. Her tuition, housing, meal plan and textbooks were paid for through these aids.

Unlike White, many other students are not as fortunate with receiving financial aid.

David Hughes, a professor of anthropology and president of the Rutgers Council of American Association of University Professors Chapter (AAUP), gave an example of one of his financially struggling students.

“Her mother is mentally ill,” he said. “She is working 20-30 hours per week. She’s taking care of her mother in the evening… She’s trying to pass my course and a bunch of other courses before her financial aid runs out.”

Hughes stated that this type of situation is not uncommon for college students.

The issue that students repeatedly explained to the commission is the lack of information they were given about their college affordability opportunities.

Sabrina Cruz, a senior at Georgian Court University, explained that she did not find out about EOF until years after high school, and she is not alone. Many students talked about the lack of financial literacy education they received in high school and how that influenced their abilities to select and pay for colleges. As a result, many struggle with juggling multiple jobs while attending college, which hurts their ability to focus on their studies.

HESAA Executive Director Gabrielle Charette explained the process through which they impart information about financial aid opportunities.

“We do over 600 Financial Aid Nights per year,” she said. “We have 74 high schools and 33 colleges participating in ‘Real Money 101.’ We are coming to the conclusion next month of our guidance counselor training institute, which we host every fall at this time — nine sessions across the state. Approximately 900 high school guidance counselors participate each year, so we are definitely trying to get the word out.”

While there were no definitive solutions to the college affordability issue that has plagued New Jersey residents, the commission has heard various perspectives, received a multitude of proposals and attained significant amounts of research.

This is the second of three public hearings that the College Affordability Study Commission is conducting. The final hearing will take place on Wednesday, Jan. 20, at Rowan University in the Chamberlain Student Center’s Eynon Ballroom at 10:30 a.m. All students, parents and members of the public are welcome to attend to express their views to the board.

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