Earlier this month, New Jersey’s Higher Education Student Assistance Authority released information on the number of undocumented college students who received financial aid due to an amendment to state law signed in May.

The announcement drew attention from many Press of Atlantic City readers who had questions about the logistics of the program. The Press spoke with HESAA Executive Director David Socolow to answer some of those questions about the amount of aid, where it came from and who gets the money.

What was the average aid amount that each of the DREAMers received?

Socolow said the average award for DREAMers was $2,891 in fall 2018. Additional aid will be dispersed for spring 2019.

Is this aid coming from the Tuition Aid Grant (TAG) program, or is it new money that was infused into the budget this year? Or both?

“Almost all of the aid that the DREAMers received was from the TAG program,” Socolow said.

Of the 513 students who received the money, 510 received TAG money. He said there was also $19,000 in Educational Opportunity Fund money, $17,000 in NJSTARs funds and about $500 from Governor’s Urban Scholarship funds.

“Every single one of these students for TAG had to be income-verified. It’s a need-based aid program,” Socolow said. “We had an application that mirrors the Federal Application for Student Aid. … It asks all the same questions, and it looks at all of the calculation to determine need for college financial aid in New Jersey.”

Socolow said the HESAA considers income, assets and family size, and it is the same process for legal New Jersey residents.

“The TAG program has always provided aid to everyone who was eligible,” he said. “The new students who were eligible as a result of the expansion did not change the ability of anyone who would otherwise have been eligible to get the TAG grant.”

He added, “No student who qualified for TAG was denied the full grant they would have otherwise received as a result of giving this aid to DREAMers.”

How much money in Tuition Aid Grants is given to students in New Jersey each semester?

Socolow said that as a whole, about 70,000 students a year in New Jersey qualify for TAG.

“One-third of all full-time undergraduates at New Jersey colleges receive a TAG award of varying amounts depending on need,” Socolow said.

He said there are 62 eligible post-secondary institutions where TAG can be used and about $430 million a year in TAG funds dispersed each year. According to Socolow, the funding fluctuates each year based on need.

The Legislature’s fiscal estimate said there was an expectation that the program would cost about $5 million based on 600 additional eligible students. How was the program able to cost less than was estimated?

The legislative fiscal estimate released in April said adding DREAMers to the list of eligible students would cost an additional $4.47 million a year “in order to provide TAG awards to the newly eligible students while maintaining the same average award amount.” That was based on funding from the 2017-18 academic year, in which the average annual TAG award for a student attending a four-year institution of higher education was $7,451.

Socolow said that although more DREAMers will receive aid in spring 2019, the reason for lower funding was likely based on income or the cost of tuition.

Socolow added that adding DREAMers to the list of students receiving the aid will be better for all New Jerseyans.

“These New Jersey students came here as children. This is the only country they have ever known, they attended our New Jersey schools for at least three years of high school — many of them for many more years — graduated from a New Jersey high school,” he said. “They’re going to college to better themselves, but ultimately they’re going to be better members of the New Jersey workforce.”

Contact: 609-272-7251 CLowe@pressofac.com Twitter @clairelowe

Staff Writer

I began covering South Jersey in 2008 after graduating from Rowan University with a degree in journalism. I joined The Press in 2015. In 2013, I was awarded a NJPA award for feature writing as a reporter for The Current of Hamilton Township.

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