Is NJ’s generous tuition aid program unfair?
It's considered one of the most generous need-based financial aid programs in the country, but the New Jersey Tuition Aid Grant program, or TAG, could still use some tweaking, according to the president of Stockton University.
Dr. Harvey Kesselman is in favor of a revised system that he says would assist more students and keep them from leaving the Garden State for their higher education.
A TAG amount currently depends not only on a student's need and which type of higher education institution they attend, but also the cost of tuition at the school.
So a student considered the neediest under the New Jersey Eligibility Index could be in line for a different TAG amount from one state college to the next, or from one county college to the next.
"I know of no other need-based program like that," Kesselman said, adding that over time as colleges raise their tuition rates, the difference in TAG amounts, from school to school, grow as well. "Inequities over time only get worse."
Kesselman is in support of a flat TAG amount based on a student's need, and it would then be up to the student where they use that grant.
He said the money saved from trimming the higher-end grants can result in a system that serves even more grant applicants.
"We need to ensure that the maximum number of New Jersey students in position of need are able to get awards," he said. "Why? Because we have the largest number of students who leave the state to get educated elsewhere. That is a brain drain that we need to reverse."
According to Assemblywoman Mila Jasey, who heads the Assembly Higher Education Committee, "the conversation about TAG is really just beginning," and in a time when resources are limited, the state has to "look at everything" to improve college affordability in the state.
Jasey noted the New Jersey College Affordability Study Commission is set to make recommendations this summer.
Jasey and Kesselman said changes to a program such as TAG would need to occur slowly and with much thought in order to avoid any unintended consequences.