New Rutgers-Camden initiative would mean free college for some

New Rutgers-Camden initiative would mean free college for some

Anew initiative at Rutgers University-Camden would mean free or reduced-cost tuition for students from moderate income levels.

Starting in the fall of 2016, incoming freshman from families with less than $60,000 in adjusted gross income will not be charged tuition. Students from families making between $60,000 and $100,000 will see the school’s $11,217 tuition cut in half.

The announcement comes amid a vociferous debate in recent years over the enormous debt loads carried by young graduates.

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According to some measures, Americans hold more than $1.3 trillion in student debt.

“The economic and social costs of student loan debt can be profound, even at a state-supported institution such as Rutgers” said Craig Westman, the university’s associate chancellor for admissions.

The university admits about 400 freshman each year, and about 60 percent of them would qualify for free and reduced tuition, Westman said.

Westman said the school hopes to decrease the amount of debt students have when they graduate, as well as decrease the number of hours students have to work while in school.

In an internal survey, the university found that more than half of the school’s students work between 20 and 40 hours per week, in addition to attending classes.

There is some fine print to the tuition breaks, said university spokesman Mike Sepanic.

Students must graduate high school no earlier than the spring of 2016 in New Jersey. They have to enroll full time — that’s 30 credits per year — at the university in the fall and attend classes on campus.

That means that transfer students won’t have access to the program; neither will students who are returning to school after a gap year.

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Typically, colleges announcing plans for free or reduced-cost tuition for families with moderate incomes have tended to be elite schools that have heavy endowments to fall back on.

That’s not the case for Rutgers-Camden, which has historically served low income families and first-generation college students.

Students will still need to fill out financial aid forms. Because while there may be reduced costs to students, the school does expect that many students will also receive federal grants.

The university said that 72 percent of its students borrowed money for the 2013-14 school year.

Sepanic said an expected increase in enrollment will help cover the costs of the program.

​In all, the school has a student body of about 6,700, a figure that includes graduate and professional school students as well as transfers.

“Bold moves are necessary to counter the real debt challenges that face college graduates across the nation,” Rutgers–Camden Chancellor Phoebe A. Haddon said in a statement.