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Rutgers-Camden bridging gap on student debt burdens

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Phoebe Haddon, chancellor, Rutgers University-Camden.
Phoebe Haddon, chancellor, Rutgers University-Camden.

A tuition-reduction program at Rutgers University-Camden is helping students from lower- to moderate-income families avoid piling up mounds of debt during their college years.

The Bridging the Gap program has helped almost 346 students from families with less than $60,000 annually and 122 from families with under $100,000 in yearly income, said Rutgers University-Camden Chancellor Phoebe Haddon. The program helps fill the void between federal Pell Grants and state sources of financial aid.

“It is really beneficial for my parents to not pay full tuition, which allows for freedom in financial areas,” Rutgers University–Camden sophomore Sierra Neal said. “I live in campus housing and my parents can afford to send my siblings to college.”

Neal intends to stay on campus into 2021, pursuing both bachelor’s and master’s degrees, she said.

“[The program] definitely lifted a weight off my parents’ shoulders and my shoulders,” she said. “It makes school enjoyable.”

Neal and other Bridging the Gap students must earn at least a 2.5 grade-point average and take 30 credits per year.

Meantime, Haddon expects Rutgers-Camden, now at roughly 7,000 students campus-wide, will eventually grow to 9,000. Such growth, she said, helps area businesses as more students will graduate with the skills to thrive professionally. Rutgers-Camden is committed to civic engagement and hands-on learning for students in tracks such as the arts, sciences, business, law and nursing.

“In higher education, we know that experiential learning is the best kind of learning opportunity,” Haddon said. “Students tend to stay in school when they have those kinds of experiences. We know that students of color in particular and first-generation students thrive when having these opportunities. We have also heard from businesses that experiential learning hones problem-solving skills that are connected to their needs.”

Rutgers-Camden tuition runs to $11,600 annually for full-time undergraduate students.

Mike Sepanic, associate chancellor for external relations at Rutgers-Camden, said Bridging the Gap students “graduate with a full range of experiences that connect their classroom learning to the real world.”

“They’re ready to apply those skills on behalf of their employers,” Sepanic said. “Many college students launch their careers near where their families live or where they went to college, [so] South Jersey will benefit greatly from this influx of creative problem-solvers.”

Rutgers-Camden started a food pantry in October, providing students 3,200 pounds of food, equaling 2,666 meals. Housed in the Student Health Services, the pantry is open to students who present their Rutgers identification.

“The reality is there are needs beyond just books and mortar,” Haddon said. “We reflect the composition of the country that has significant numbers of people who are hungry.”

The Rutgers Library System also is giving grants to campus faculty to cover costs of textbooks for students in need. The program has assisted more than 11,000 students on all Rutgers campuses, saving them $2.1 million since 2016.

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David Hutter

David Hutter


David Hutter grew up in Darien, Conn., and covers higher education, transportation and manufacturing for NJBIZ. He can be reached at dhutter@njbiz.com.

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