Rutgers-Camden to cover tuition for low-income students

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CAMDEN, N.J. (AP) — Rutgers University's Camden campus is redoing its financial aid system so new students from families making $60,000 a year or less won't have to pay any tuition.

There also will be significant financial aid for students whose families have incomes from $60,001 to $100,000 under the "Bridging the Gap" program announced Monday.

The program is for students who graduate from high school and enroll in 2016. It will cover tuition and fees — which total about $14,000 for the current academic year — but not room and board at the largely commuter university.

Craig Westman, the associated chancellor for enrollment management, said he expects more than half of the full-time freshmen at Rutgers next fall will qualify.

The school says it will cover all tuition and fees after federal grants are applied for students from families making up to $60,000. It also will cover half of the remaining tuition and fees after federal grants are applied for students whose families make $60,001 to $100,000.

It's renewable annually as long as students are making progress toward degrees and earning 30 credits each year.

University officials said the new structure should lower or even eliminate student loan debt for students in the program; currently, nearly three-fourths of Rutgers-Camden students use loans to help cover costs. Westman said it should also mean students will not have to work as many hours and can focus more on school.

Rutgers spokesman Michael Sepanic said the university expects it will attract more students with the new offering and that the federal grant money they bring with them will help cover the costs of the university-based grants. Other scholarships, including merit-based scholarships, will still be available.

Rutgers officials say it's the first of the state's public four-year colleges and universities to launch such a program. But it's not the first program of its kind among public universities nationally. The University of Texas-El Paso, for instance, has a similar program for new students with family incomes under $30,000.