Tuition Aid Grant (TAG) Program
of the NJ Higher Education Student Assistance Authority (HESAA)
- Established by statute in 1978, the TAG
Program is New Jersey’s premier need-based assistance program for college
students. TAG is administered by the NJ
Higher Education Assistance Authority (HESAA)
- Its goal is to help keep higher education
accessible and affordable for TAG-eligible, full-time undergraduates who attend
public and private higher educational institutions in New Jersey. The TAG
program reduces or eliminates the tuition component of the cost of attending
college for students demonstrating financial need.
- In FY18, the State appropriated a total of
$425,859,000 towards TAG.
- In FY19, the State appropriated an
additional $7 million in TAG awards bringing the total to $432,859,000.
- The structure of the TAG award table is
based on a numeric New Jersey Eligibility Index (NJEI) that represents the
relative dollar amount the student and family are expected to be able to
contribute toward college costs, as determined through a need analysis
methodology. The NJEI ranges on the award table are referred to as “cells.”
- However, the distribution of TAG funds
remains inequitable across institutions.
NJEI is based on, among others, which college the student attends, the
student’s Expected Family Contribution (EFC), and the amount of tuition
charged. Though initially well-intended, this formula has allowed
for structural inequity.
- Student aid, in the opinion of NJASCU, should
be based on financial need and follow the student wherever he or she chooses to
attend. This is a basic and foundational principle for need-based
aid, as reflected by the federal Pell grant program.
- Up until four years ago, HESAA has computed
TAG awards based on gross tuition rates charged by colleges. Since
then, TAG awards have been increased by a percentage over the prior
year. The inequity within TAG awards arose from two primary
factors: (1) the shift of costs from tuition to fees within the 4-year senior
public college sector, and (2) the practice of “tuition discounting” in the
- In an effort to control tuition increases at
public colleges (caused by the State’s defunding of public higher education),
the Legislature and Governor discouraged tuition increases and, in the past,
have considered imposing tuition caps upon public colleges.
In response, public colleges implemented fees to offset
tuition increases. Consequently, public college tuition increases
were routinely less than three percent per year. However,
this pressure was not applicable to independent/private colleges where tuition
increases far outpaced the public college sector.
- The inequity within TAG awards is further
exacerbated by the recruiting practice in the private sector known as “tuition
discounting”. This practice occurs when a college advertises a
“retail” (or gross) tuition price, but the actual cost of attendance falls far
below the advertised retail price, giving students the impression their
attendance would be substantial value, and that the college is willing to go
beyond other colleges to attract/enroll them. This is accomplished
by offering institutional discounts, and institutional aid to attract/enroll
applicants. The actual cost of attendance charged is a well-guarded
secret at private colleges that widely practice tuition discounting. Some
colleges, therefore, are effectively “rewarded” for maintaining high tuition
rates, allowing their students to qualify for more State funded TAG aid that,
simultaneously, offsets the amount that college would have had to contribute to
discount its advertised tuition. Use of State funds in this manner is
contrary to public policy and an inefficient use of very limited public dollars
for financial aid.
- NJASCU proposes the following amendment to the TAG formula, in order to incorporate “academic credit fees” into its eligibility index. The proposed changes (in red) to the TAG statute (N.J.S.A. 18A:71B-21) are below:
Amount of Grant; Reduction of Award.
- The amount of a tuition aid grant awarded under this article to any student attending an eligible institution shall be established by the authority, but shall not exceed the maximum amount of tuition and mandatory academic credit fees actually charged at a public institution of higher education for students attending that institution during the prior academic year or 50% of the average tuition and mandatory academic credit fees actually charged students who do not receive financial aid at the independent institutions of higher education for students attending those institutions during the prior academic year. In no event, shall a student attending a private institution be eligible for a TAG award exceeding the highest TAG award for which that student would be eligible at a public institution. The amount of a State tuition aid grant awarded under this act to any student attending an institution of higher education in any state other than New Jersey pursuant to this section shall not exceed $500 in an academic year. The amount of grant to be paid for each semester or its equivalent shall be based on the financial need for the grant, as determined by standards and procedures established by the authority….
January 9, 2019