New Jersey students who may not have considered applying for college because of financial constraints could have their tuition costs completely waived or reduced by half through a program being offered by Rutgers University-Camden.

Dino Flammia, Townsquare Media NJ

The "Bridging the Gap" program is open to students who are graduating from high school in 2016 and who are U.S. citizens and residents of New Jersey. It's only available to those who plan to attend Rutgers Camden next fall.

“Bold moves are necessary to counter the real debt challenges that face college graduates across the nation. This Rutgers–Camden initiative is an innovative response that is structured to help ensure that every New Jersey student and family seeking a world-class Rutgers education can do so right here in South Jersey,” Rutgers–Camden Chancellor Phoebe A. Haddon said in a press release on the school's website.

How does "Bridging the Gap work?"

  • Families with an adjusted gross income of $60,000 or less will receive a grant that covers all of their tuition costs as well as the general campus fee.
  • Families with an AGI of $60,001 to $100,000 will receive a grant covering 50 percent of their remaining tuition and the general campus fee once any other grants are applied.
  • In addition, students who have student loan debt during and after graduating from Rutgers-Camden will see a reduction or elimination of this debt.
  • Since participation in the program is need-based, completion of the FAFSA is mandatory.
  • The grant is not transferable to other schools or Rutgers campuses.
  • Students in the program must be in good academic standing and maintain at least 30 college credits per year.

According to the Rutgers-Camden website, during the 2013-14 aid year, 72 percent of all undergraduate students at Rutgers–Camden took out loans to cover their tuition. According to Craig Westman, associate chancellor for enrollment management at Rutgers University–Camden, the program will give students the opportunity to reduce or eliminate their loan debt moving forward.

“By some estimates, the United States carries more than $1.3 trillion in student debt,” Westman said. “By removing in some cases, and dramatically lowering in others, the debt burden for some of our students, we are creating opportunities for students to access their futures, and for our regional economy to realize the benefits of its investment in supporting public higher education in a more timely manner."

According to the New Jersey State Association of Colleges and Universities, the average cost of tuition and fees for in-state students attending state colleges and universities is $12,203.

The average annual cost of tuition and fees for a full-time undergraduate student enrolled in an independent institution of higher education in New Jersey is $35,084, according to the state Office of the Secretary of Higher Education. In addition, almost seven in 10 college seniors who graduated in 2013 left school with an average of $28,400 in student loan debt, an increase of 2 percent over 2012, according to the Institute for College Access and Success.

Earlier this year, the Christie Administration established The New Jersey College Affordability Commission. The panel was tasked with investigating way to lower the cost of a college education in New Jersey. Preliminary suggestions the commission was exploring included rethinking the state’s tuition aid eligibility standards, cheaper textbooks, more remedial education for students while they’re still in high school and allowing more students to earn college credits for free while in high school.

Kevin McArdle contributed to this story.

Toniann Antonelli is the digital managing editor at NJ 101.5. Reach her at toniann.antonelli@townsquaremedia.com, or on Twitter @ToniRadio1015.