Commentary: Getting To The Root Of Student Debt At NJ Universities

"I ... believe two very important questions need to be asked whenever the subject of student debt is raised. First: 'What is causing our students to accumulate debt?' Second: 'What are our students getting for that debt?'" Joel S. Bloom, president of New Jersey Institute of Technology, writes for the Star-Ledger.

"In answer to the first question, it is no secret that our state’s long-term disinvestment in higher education has forced hefty tuition increases for more than a decade. This is true across New Jersey’s higher education landscape. I will use New Jersey Institute of Technology — mentioned in the 'Student Debt and the Class of 2012' report as a college whose students carry a large debt — as an example of the impact of this disinvestment.

NJIT received a base state appropriation of $53 million during fiscal 2001, equating to more than $6,000 of support per student. In FY 2014, NJIT is slated to receive a base appropriation of $38 million, which equates to less than $3,800 per student. At the same time, we are educating a great many more students because of the increasing demand for a technically trained workforce. While we have achieved efficiencies, enhanced fundraising and seek alternative funding sources, some of the costs have to be shifted to students due to the decline in state support over multiple years.

An additional driver of student debt specific to NJIT is the type of education we provide. We are the state’s technological university, so many of our students study disciplines with very rigorous course loads that require more than the traditional four years to complete.

It is no secret that our state's long-term disinvestment in higher education has forced hefty tuition increases for more than a decade.

We also incur far greater costs for science and technology faculty, high-technology facilities and equipment.

Furthermore, NJIT proudly serves as a launching pad for many first-generation college students as well as students from lower-income families. Many of our students simply are not in position to fund their education without taking out loans.

In order to mitigate the financial challenges faced by our students, we have increased financial aid awarded to students (more than 80 percent of students with financial need receive substantial aid packages from the university), moderated tuition growth and implemented support programs that have improved graduation rates. So, we know the answer to question No. 1 and are taking steps to address the challenge.

The second question — What are our students getting for that debt? — is just as important to ask, and the answers will vary greatly by institution."

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