New Rutgers Report Finds Significant Barriers for Low-Income Working Adults Seeking Higher Education

New Rutgers Report Finds Significant Barriers for Low-Income Working Adults Seeking Higher Education

Expanding financial aid options for adult workers critical to strengthening New Jersey’s economy

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – With close to half the state’s fastest growing job sectors requiring an associate degree or higher, expanding educational opportunities for low-income workers is crucial to New Jersey’s long-term economic health, according to a new report by the Rutgers Center for Women and Work (CWW).

Paying for College: Availability of Need-based Financial Aid for New Jersey’s Working Adults,” found that while New Jersey ranks among the top three states in the amount of grant and scholarship assistance awarded per student, low-income workers face significant eligibility barriers and obstacles to applying for assistance. The report was released today at a CWW policy forum.

“Need-based financial aid for post-secondary education is mainly given to traditional full-time students who are working toward a specific degree, but with 55 percent of adults in our state lacking at least an associate degree, it’s clear that more support is needed for adults who are working, raising a family and trying to obtain more education and training,” said Karen White, report co-author and director of the Working Families Program at the Rutgers Center for Women and Work.

The two primary financial aid programs available to working adult students in New Jersey are Tuition Aid Grants (TAG) and Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) grants. While these programs are intended for low-income students, they were not designed to address the changing needs of adult workers.

Tuition Aid Grants are for full-time students enrolled in degree-seeking programs. Although a part-time TAG program has been established, it still requires more credit hours per semester than most working adults are able to complete and can be used only at community colleges. EOF grants provide additional funding to help defray the cost of books and other educational expenses, but these grants are extremely limited for part-time students.

Low-income working adult students face additional barriers to obtaining education and training in New Jersey, including a highly complex financial aid application process, inconsistent criteria in determining a student’s need, and increasingly high tuition and educational costs. A 2008 report, “Measuring Up 2008: the State Report Card on Higher Education,” gave New Jersey an “F” for college affordability.

The CWW report also found the need for the implementation of data collection systems that will allow policymakers to better determine if aid programs are working and gauge student retention and completion rates.

"If our state is to compete in today’s economy, we must do more to democratize access to education so that it is accessible to all,” said report co-author Mary Gatta, director of Gender and Workforce Policy at CWW and a member of the Department of Labor Studies and Employment faculty. “By making key improvements to financial aid grant requirements and better addressing the needs of our workforce, we can be on the road to having a highly skilled workforce that is ready for the future.”

The report, whose third co-author is Heather McKay, director of Innovative Training and Workforce Development at CWW, included the following policy recommendations:

·         Expand TAG and EOF grant programs to make less-than-half-time students eligible and make part-time TAG grants available at all New Jersey higher education institutions, not just community colleges.

·         Expand funding for a program that helps families complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, required for students to be considered for most need-based financial grants in New Jersey. Currently, 17 colleges and universities in the state participate in the program.

·         Collect and make available data on low-income working adults’ access to and use of need-based financial aid, as well as educational outcomes over time. In addition, support state efforts to create a statewide longitudinal data collection system that starts in pre-kindergarten and continues through higher education and entry into the workforce.

“Paying for College: Availability of Need-based Financial Aid for New Jersey’s Working Adults” is part of the Working Poor Families Project, a national initiative of the Annie E. Casey, Ford, Rockefeller, and Joyce and Charles Stewart Mott foundations. The project examines state-level policies and programs targeting or affecting low-income working families. To read the full report, visit

The Center for Women and Work (CWW) is an innovative leader in research and programs that promotes gender equity, a high-skill economy, and reconciliation of work and well-being for all. CWW is located in the School of Management and Labor Relations at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. CWW addresses women’s advancement in the workplace and conducts cutting-edge research on successful public and workplace policies.


Media Contact: Steve Manas
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