TRENTON – Around 68,000 college students in New Jersey will be provided larger Tuition Aid Grant awards in the coming year, under revisions to the program made possible by a $35 million increase in state budget funding.

The changes don’t expand eligibility for the need-based TAG grants, but they do increase the awards across the board – including by more than $2,000 for some low-income students.

In all, the state plans to spend nearly $473 million on TAG awards in the coming year. David Socolow, executive director of the New Jersey Higher Education Student Assistance Authority, said it is a “historic funding increase.”

“Gov. Murphy and the Legislature gave us a budget that significantly increases the state’s funding to help students pay for college,” Socolow said.

“That’s going to enable tens of thousands of students to qualify for an increase of more than $2,000 in their annual TAG award,” he said. “That’s going to reduce the amount of money they need to borrow in student loans and help their chances of success both in college and in their lives and careers afterwards.”

Socolow said 36% of full-time undergraduates at New Jersey colleges and universities receive money through the TAG program.

Awards are based on a complex formula that doesn’t solely rely on family income but also considers factors such as family size and other assets. As a student’s need goes down, so do their awards.

“But the awards for every student all throughout the table who qualifies for any award at all – all of them are going up,” Socolow said.

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The TAG spending isn’t the only higher-education related increase in the record $46.4 billion budget.

The budget adds $7 million for the tuition-free community college program, bringing its budget to $27 million; provides $5 million to prepare for the fall 2022 introduction of a similar tuition-free program for two years at four-year colleges; lets families deduct $10,000 in tuition payments when calculating state income taxes; and matches up to $750 in NJ BEST college savings account contributions for families with incomes under $75,000.

“In a whole variety of ways, we are trying to reduce the overall burden of paying for college, reducing the loan debt that people have to take out,” Socolow said.

Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com.

Beautiful sunflower fields to visit in NJ 2021

Among reasons why the “Garden State” remains a fitting nickname for New Jersey — late summer means the arrival of sunflower season.

There are at least six fields, spanning the state. Some are in bloom as of early August, while others are planned to peak from late August to late September.

Calling or emailing before heading out is always advisable if weather appears to be an issue. 

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