Commuter Corner: TAG cut sends student scrambling

Denial starts the process of receiving my annual award financial aid letter, followed by anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance of that total on the tuition bill. Yet, it seems I am not the only one in denial.

In the current economic situation where many families are struggling, the importance of financial aid has only increased in the past few years. Rider has done its part by increasing its commitment to financial aid for students, as it has raised tuition 4.9 percent each year since the 2008-2009 school year. However, as more students than ever are in need of financial aid, many turn to state aid, such as the Tuition Aid Grant, known commonly as TAG, only to discover that source of funding has been cut.

The TAG award is described on the State of New Jersey’s Higher Education Student Assistance Authority’s website as “one of the nation’s largest and most generous financial aid programs.” The truth of that line is called into question by the fact that Gov. Chris Christie cut TAG funding by $46 million in the 2011-2012 budgets.

Education is supposed to be “the great equalizer.” However, the inability to afford school puts people at a disadvantage. According to the Sept. 30 The Rider News article, “TAG Troubles: Rider tries to ease financial burden,” 93 percent of Rider students receive financial aid, meaning that a mere 7 percent of our fellow Broncs are here without any assistance.

Many Rider students turn to other sources for funding their education. Hundreds of students work on campus, getting paid by the same source that some of their money will return to when next semester’s bill is due. Other students take jobs off-campus. However, sometimes this is not enough.

Some students come to college aware that they will graduate in debt. They keep their expenses low, work hard in school and work and borrow as little as possible. I am one such student. I attend class, work on campus and try to save as much as possible. However, when my TAG was cut, paying the difference meant extra stress this year. Fortunately, I spent little of my earnings from my summer job, providing the funding that I had lost. I was a lucky one, not having to take out additional student loans.

Student loans are a popular option, particularly when other sources of aid fall short. The average college student graduated with $22,900 in debt last May, according to the Wall Street Journal. FinAid.org estimates the number to be $23,118 for graduates of public universities, such as Rutgers. Its estimate for non-profit private universities, like Rider, is $27,535. These numbers reflect the student who is in the middle of the spectrum. Some graduates have far less debt; others have much more.

While the talking heads out there can say all they want about the irresponsibility of college students getting themselves into debt, they should remember that if the availability of higher education was based strictly on who could afford it upfront, there would be far fewer college graduates out there.

Fewer college graduates mean fewer teachers, accountants, scientists and a future where progress of any sort, social or economic, would be nearly impossible. However, as the unemployment rate for college graduates with a bachelor’s degree is currently at 4.5 percent, less than half the current rate of 9.1 percent for the general population, college education is still the best bet to improve the odds of being employed.

– Jess Scanlon

Senior journalism major

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