By: Rachel Theodora Appleton
Starting right now, qualifying freshman applying to Rutgers Camden for the fall 2016 semester will have the opportunity to participate in the “Bridging the Gap” program.
“Bridging the Gap” was created by the Camden enrollment management team as an opportunity for students to obtain college degrees “without the burden of debt,” according to the programs website.
Students from families with an adjusted gross income below $60,000 will receive a grant covering their entire tuition (Campus Fee included.) Also, families with an AGI of $60,001-$100,000 will be offered half priced tuition.
“When I first heard of this program, I thought it was too good to be true! ‘Bridging the Gap’ will help people get an education that they deserve and a career they choose,” said Prudhvi Killada, school of arts and sciences senior.
Since the next aid year begins January 2016 and the Rutgers Camden application for admission deadline ends May 1st, students should really start to get going with the application process, said Craig Westman, associate chancellor of enrollment management at Rutgers Camden.
“This is not a merit based scholarship so students simply apply, get admitted and fill out the FAFSA form. It’s as simple as that!” said Westman.
Some students don’t fill out the FAFSA forms because they are unsure that they’d get any assistance. Westman often stresses to his students that they should apply and fill out the FAFSA no matter what. “You don’t know what you may be eligible for until you do it.”
There is no cut off when it comes to accepting students into the “Bridging the Gap” program, which means any student with the required AGI is eligible.
Having a program like this at all Rutgers Campuses would have made such a difference when it comes to student debt for me, said Killada. He has been a full time student for four years and understands the burden of accruing student debt.
“The students that we bring in are infinitely different from other Rutgers Campuses,” said Westman. At Rutgers Camden, the freshman class average is about four hundred students, which is a small fraction compared to Rutgers New Brunswick.
Zach Hosseini, the director of communications and marketing at Rutgers New Brunswick said, “There are no current plans for a “Bridging the Gap” program at New Brunswick. Since the New Brunswick campus has such a different population base it would be quite challenging to implement a similar program.
“The financial aid programs and capacity for growth at our University, and Rutgers-Camden are unique and there’s not a ‘one size fits all’ approach,” said Hosseini.
However, Rutgers New Brunswick does have its own way of giving to those in need.
“Programs like the New Jersey Educational Opportunity Fund provide access to higher education for students from families and communities disadvantaged by low income” continued Hosseini.
Rutgers Camden’s “Bridging the Gap” is the first program in New Jersey offering such an opportunity and hopefully it is not long before other schools incorporate a similar program. First off, this type of program will help jumpstart careers, it will help students to spend more time on education instead of working and it will encourage students to complete their degrees, Westman explained.
“Since Rutgers is one of the top Universities in the world, hopefully other colleges will be inspired and start their own programs,” said Killada.
Killada knows first-hand what it means to be a working commuter. “I used to work from 4:00pm until 11:30pm after a long day of classes. I’d come home and do homework and eventually get to bed around 4 in the morning. If I didn’t have to work at a part time job, I would be able to spend more time on school assignments.”
Over 81% of Camden’s student populations are commuters and 59% of their students work twenty to forty hours per week, Westman said.
Westman started working at Rutgers Camden just under six months ago and saw the potential for students at Rutgers Camden. Westman believed that this campus would be a perfect place to implement a similar program to the one he worked with at the University of Texas El Paso.
“The University of Texas at El Paso has a similar student body to Rutgers Camden,” said Westman. They started with the freshman class and the program went so well that they eventually started to plan on expanding the program to include other student bodies such as transfers.
Westman explained that when he arrived at Camden, Chancellor Phoebe Hadden had similar ideas to his. They both agreed on the importance of providing opportunities to students who fall into the category of first generation college students.
“Bridging the Gap” not only will affect the lives of its students but also hopefully spread a wind of change across the state.
“Other schools have reached out to ask about the financial plan we are implanting. Ideally it would be great to have a similar program at Universities across the state, but it will be a challenge for larger institutions” Westman said.
Photo: “Ru-camden-campus” by Henry Montesino