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Rutgers holds virtual open hearing on tuition, fees, housing for 2021-2022

The University will restructure all three campus' mandatory fees for the 2021-2022 year in order to better reflect the purposes of these fees, though the total charges will not be changed.  – Photo by Rutgers.edu

The Rutgers Board of Governors’ Committee on Academic and Student Affairs and the Committee on Finance and Facilities hosted a virtual open hearing Wednesday to discuss the University's tuition, fees and housing and dining charges for the 2021–2022 fiscal year.

David Moore, chief budget officer at Rutgers, provided a summary of the University’s recent actions regarding student charges and the revenue and expense budgets.

This fiscal year, student tuition, fees and auxiliary services, such as housing and dining, comprised 32 percent of the University’s $4.3 billion revenue budget. Additionally, patient care accounted for 22 percent, while 15 percent was generated by grants and contracts, he said. The remainder of the expense budget came from federal and state student aid, which goes directly to students, and other sources, including gifts and endowment.

Moore said the University’s revenue sources are under pressure due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, which makes it difficult to maintain a high standard of education while remaining affordable and accessible.

In regard to expenses, the University spent approximately 65 percent of funds on compensation by means of salary, wages and fringe benefits, he said. Additionally, 10 percent of expenses went to support students through scholarships and fellowships, with the remaining 25 percent being allotted to supplies, materials, utilities, repairs and other services.

Over the last five years, each Rutgers campus has experienced an average increase in tuition and fees of approximately 1.2 percent, Moore said. For Rutgers—New Brunswick, this is lower than the majority of New Jersey’s senior public institutions and public universities in the Association of American Universities.

He said the current total price of tuition at the University is between $14,500 and $15,300 for Rutgers—Newark and Rutgers—New Brunswick respectively. Even though these costs are comparable with other colleges and universities, he said many students are able to reduce their tuition fees.

“As many of you know, a great number of Rutgers students do not pay full price,” Moore said. “There are many ways Rutgers students and their families are able to reduce out-of-pocket costs.”

Moore said merit grants and federal need-based aid are ways to reduce tuition in addition to federal need-based loans. Last year, $211,438 was allocated for merit and need-based grants for students at Rutgers—New Brunswick, while $84,937 and $52,918 were awarded for students at Rutgers—Newark and Rutgers—Camden respectively.

Moore said more than 79 percent of students receive some form of aid, with the average net cost for a first-year in-state student at Rutgers—New Brunswick being $17,835, as opposed to the total cost of $32,124. Rutgers—Newark students typically pay 49 percent of the total cost, while Rutgers—Camden students typically pay 53 percent, he said.

The University’s unrestricted sources, which are one-time funds allotted to various infrastructure projects, funds and expenditure reserves, totaled $506 million this fiscal year, he said.

Of these funds, 42 percent are invested in the interest of long-term needs, such as reserves for need-based and merit aid, and 22 percent are allocated for faculty research initiatives. The remaining funds are used for the University’s self-insurance program, capital projects and department-funded initiatives.

Moore said although this may seem like a lot, the amount is not much when the University’s size and comparisons between peer institutions are taken into account.

“The reality is that Rutgers’ ratio of spendable cash and investments compared to our operating expenses is very low,” he said.

The University has attempted to conserve resources and costs throughout the COVID-19 pandemic by implementing a hiring freeze, putting limits on discretionary spending and temporarily halting capital project planning, among other initiatives, Moore said.

Rutgers will also be restructuring its mandatory fees for all three campuses to clarify their purposes, though the total charges will not be changed, he said. 

For instance, the campus fee will become the student fee, the student government fee will be moved to the student fee and the capital improvement fee will be moved to the school fee, Moore said. In addition, the computer fee will become the technology fee, and the off-campus fee will become the offsite instructional support fee.

The student fee is meant to support a portion of student-centered activities, such as student life, health services and athletics, he said. This fee will vary by campus and by student status as part-time or full-time student.

The school fee, which will also consist of the student government fee and capital improvement fee, provides funding for costs associated with each school’s operations, maintenance and utilities and will also vary by campus and student status, Moore said. The technology fee will fund courses that require computer interaction. The offsite instructional support fee will apply for students enrolled in offsite degree programs.

“As we look forward into (fiscal year) 2022, we have ongoing concerns about our enrollment and the level of revenue that will come in the fall and uncertainty surrounding the continued impacts from the pandemic,” he said. “We will continue to monitor spending levels, strategically use our limited federal relief funds to help bridge funding gaps over the next year and continue to look for ways to reserve funds.”

The event concluded with panel attendees, which included students and parents expressing their thoughts on the topics of tuition fees, as well as housing and dining charges.

Several parents of Rutgers students raised concerns at the event, speaking out about their childrens’ disappointment at having a virtual education experience in the fall and their concern that virtual classes cost the same as in-person ones.

Shareif Abdelwahab, a Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School student and a Rutgers alumnus, commented on the need for a fee breakdown for students of all levels, not just undergraduate students, at the University.

He said that such information would be helpful in understanding how services have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, especially since many graduate students pay significantly more in tuition than undergraduate students.

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