Republican Inaction Puts College Further From Reach For Countless New Jerseyans

Failure to Override Governor’s Vetoes to Tuition Aid Programs Makes Higher Education More Expensive

TRENTON – A college education just became much more expensive – if not unattainable – for thousands of New Jerseyans today, as Republican Senators continued to vote in lock-step to preserve the governor’s ill-conceived cuts to tuition aid programs.

In three separate votes, Republican lawmakers sustained more than $54 million in cuts to the Tuition Aid Grant (TAG) program for both full-time four-year and part-time county college students, as well as for the Equal Opportunity Fund that assists students from low-income families.

“A college education is not a luxury that only the rich should be able to afford, and these cuts will make it harder for students from limited means to get the education they will need to meet their potential,” said Sen. Bob Gordon (D-Bergen). “What makes matters worse is that these cuts go beyond anything the governor had even proposed. With a stroke of his pen he actually set these programs backwards.”

“The cost of a college continues to climb even while the governor cuts funds that were meant to keep the price of an education within the grasp of thousands of students,” said Sen. Jim Whelan (D-Atlantic). “Because of these cuts, students with little are going to have to dig even deeper into what little savings they have, rack up huge debts to stay in school or drop out. Republicans today gave thousands of college students no good choices and no hope.”

Gordon and Whelan sponsored two resolutions seeking to override the governor’s vetoes to the TAG program (SCR-212 and SCR-213). The governor’s cuts to TAG for full time students totaled $46.5 million – and even included eliminating an aid increase he proposed in his initial budget in February. The TAG program for part-time students at county colleges was slashed $2.1 million. Both programs have experienced an increase in applications in recent years – the full-time student TAG program is expected to serve roughly 66,000 students in the upcoming academic year, a 20 percent increase in three years.

Senators Teresa Ruiz and Ron Rice (both D-Essex) sponsored a companion resolution (SCR-211) to override the governor’s $5.5 million cut to the Educational Opportunity Fund program, which provides additional assistance to students from economically disadvantaged families. The program, founded in 1968, helps students supplement their TAG awards by providing assistance to cover the costs of fees, books, room and board, and transportation.

“For the past six years, college costs have continued to rise while EOF has been kept flat or cut. Now, the program will lose even more ground,” said Ruiz. “As we continue our discussions on economic development and education reform, we must remember that progress requires real access for all New Jerseyans to a higher education. Without properly funding EOF, we’re literally closing the books on the futures of countless students.”

“For forty years, disadvantaged families have looked to EOF to help their kids raise themselves into the middle class with a college education, and now the governor is taking away that hope,” said Rice. “An education has always been society’s great equalizer. Without EOF, who can go to a college will be determined by solely who has the deeper pockets, not by who has the desire to learn and excel. This cut is a slap in the face to every poor kid who hoped that hard work in school would bring it’s own reward.”

The override attempts all failed by 24-13 votes, with no Republican support.