Students express concerns about college costs and access
ATLANTIC CITY — Not only is college expensive, but college students say they weren’t fully prepared on how to navigate those expenses during a face-to-face Monday with the state’s top higher education officials.
“I feel like these conversations are crucial for us to have, but I feel like they would be more beneficial if they were being done within our high school districts first,” said Dominque Sanchez of Paulsboro.
Sanchez was among a handful of Stockton University students selected to sit on a panel with New Jersey Secretary of the Office of Higher Education Zakiya Smith Ellis and David Socolow, executive director of the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority.
The discussion, which took place at the college’s city campus, was one of the last stops on a statewide Graduation Tour to promote the state’s new plan for higher education and Gov. Phil Murphy’s recommended budget investments in higher education. The tour had made a stop at Atlantic Cape Community College earlier in the day.
The higher education plan was unveiled in March and included a Student Bill of Rights that calls for exposure to post-secondary and career pathways in high school, financial transparency regarding the cost of college, on-the-job experience before graduation, supportive staff and campuses, and a voice in crafting policies.
“It should be simple and easy. The hardest thing about going to college should be the classes you’re taking,” Smith Ellis said, not figuring out how to pay for it.
Socolow said that more can be done to make college affordable.
“We’re here to help, to take your advice and your thoughts,” he said.
The students came from a variety of backgrounds and towns throughout the state. Some of them were transfer students, others were pursuing their master’s degree or recent graduates.
Some were exposed to college in high school while others were not given any help or guidance toward higher education.
Vakaz Akram of Atlantic City is a participant in the state’s Educational Opportunity Fund, which provides financial assistance and support services to in-state college students from educationally and economically disadvantaged backgrounds.
He said he was glad the state was taking steps to make college more affordable and applauded the state’s free community college program.
“The resources seem to be there, it’s more about the affordability than anything else that really stresses me out,” Akram said.
He said loans aren’t an option for him due to cultural reasons, so he had to pay for college through other means.
Atlantic City resident and Stockton sophomore Franco Castillo said he had a lot of trouble with the state when filling out his financial forms, and it made it harder for him to enroll in college.
Students also said there needs to be more education for parents on the college process, especially for families that previously did not have any college graduates.
“I think one of the things that was a big takeaway was making the connection back to the high schools,” Smith Ellis said. “That would be just one step.”
She said in addition to streamlining information, the state has to work toward bringing the cost of education down.
She said students shouldn’t only have access to higher education because they attend a certain high school with certain programs.
Smith Ellis said her goal is to make the path as clear as it can be.