Rutgers to offer free, discounted tuition for thousands of students

Daniel J. Munoz//February 21, 2022

Rutgers to offer free, discounted tuition for thousands of students

Daniel J. Munoz//February 21, 2022

Rutgers University said it is waiving tuition costs for students whose families earn up to $65,000 a year, and lowering the costs for families that earn up to $100,000 a year.

The new program, called the Scarlet Guarantee, would be available starting in the fall for the New Brunswick-Piscataway campus; it is expected to benefit upwards of 7,600 first- and second-year students, or 20% of the undergraduate student body.

University officials said the program would cost the school $14 million next year.

“These new programs are transformational for our state’s students,” reads a Feb. 21 prepared statement from Francine Conway, the chancellor-provost for the Rutgers-New Brunswick campus.

The program also covers certain expenses like student fees, though room and board is not included.

Rutgers is notorious for having some of the highest tuition costs of any public university in the nation, according to an analysis by USA Today. Tuition for the current academic year clocks in at $15,804, plus $13,402 for room and board, for a total price tag of $29,206 a year.

Tuition for next year has not been set, as that is usually done at a Rutgers Board of Governors meeting in late June.

Worsening Rutgers’ financial woes is its athletics department, which has struggled to break even since its football team joined the Big Ten Conference in 2014, and has frequently depended on bailouts from the university budget, loans and student fees. The school spent nearly $119 million in the prior academic year to prop up the athletics department, and Rutgers University President Jonathan Holloway said earlier in February that he doubted the athletics department could ever stay out of the red.

On top of that, Rutgers previously agreed to refund $5 million in student fees as part of a class action lawsuit for charging students mandatory fees while the university transitioned to remote learning in March 2020.

‘Last dollar’ relief

Other colleges such as Stockton University, New Jersey City University and Saint Peter’s University have introduced similar programs to some of their lowest-earning students, who may otherwise be left to scrounge together potentially high-interest student loans to cover costs.

But even with those programs in effect, students are often left with bills for books, housing, food, transportation and other expenses, which could add up to thousands of dollars.

According to Rutgers, the Scarlet Guarantee is designed as a “last dollar” form of financial aid—meaning it only kicks in to cover the gap between state and federal aid, and the remaining balance.

It comes on the heels of a program Gov. Phil Murphy previously rolled out called the Garden State Guarantee. Under it, the state covers the last two years of a four-year bachelor’s degree for certain low-income students.

That program, combined with a community college subsidy, means that the state would essentially cover the entire college costs for some of New Jersey’s lowest-earning students. It provides tuition-free college for families earning up to $65,000 a year, and a sliding scale of state subsidies for anything above that.

Like the state program, the Scarlet Guarantee operates on a sliding scale. Students whose families earn between $65,001 and $80,000 a year in gross income would pay no more than $3,000 a year toward tuition and fees. Students with families earning between $80,001 and $100,000 a year would be responsible for no more than $5,000 a year.

Eligibility is only open to full-time students eligible for in-state tuition who are pursuing a bachelor’s degree, but not a graduate degree. Only the first four years are covered, so students enrolled in a program that might go beyond four years — like pharmacy degrees, which take six years — would still be responsible for those final two years.

Enrollment is automatic for those students who do qualify, the university said. Students are automatically considered based on their income levels once they fill out the annual Free Application for Student Federal Aid. Dreamers — those living in the country illegally — instead have to fill out the New Jersey Alternative Financial Aid application.

A series of online webinars will be hosted throughout March and April to outline more program specifics to eligible students.