Tuition aid falls short for N.J. students

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Tuition aid falls short for N.J. students

Students left scrambling to pay education bills
Sep 01, 2006

TRENTON, N.J. — Ninety-two students from seven veterinary institutions are scrambling for last-minute tuition funds following a New Jersey budget battle that axed $650,000 from the state's $1.337 million Veterinary Medicine Education Program (VMEP).

VMEP provides a subsidy that reserves seats and offsets out-of-state tuition for New Jersey veterinary students to compensate for the state's lack of a veterinary institution. The program originally was cut entirely by Gov. Jon Corzine to feed the state's $4.5 billion deficit but was saved during 11th-hour negotiations with the Legislature. VMEP is funded through annual appropriations in the grants section of the State General Fund and administered by the state's Higher Education Student Assistance Authority (HESAA).

New Jersey's contracts with Tufts University, University of Pennsylvania (Penn), Cornell University, University of Illinois, Iowa State University, Oklahoma State University and Tuskegee University are being reworked. While most had not yet started classes at presstime, nine New Jersey contract students at Penn's veterinary school just learned they might be short $5,700 in tuition. Three incoming Penn students had not yet been notified. Tuition assistance for 15 New Jersey veterinary students at Tufts will be affected, but reduction levels were unknown by university officials.

The sudden hike in students' tuition obligations is a worst-case scenario but realistic for all VMEP students, says Dr. Jeffrey Wortman, Penn veterinary school's associate dean. While VMEP funding was nearly cut in half, some institutions lost more than others, depending on their contracts. Penn's annual tuition costs of $28,572 for in-state students and $34,262 for out-of-state students make the private veterinary school more expensive than most, therefore it received a higher stipend. Wortman wouldn't relay contract details, but says he's asked the students affected to embark on a letter-writing campaign to the New Jersey governor's office.

"This is a last minute type of a thing, so it's going to hit these students quite hard," he says. "They've already received their financial aid. Now we have to help them get more."

Out thousands

When fourth-year Penn student Cara Lane thinks about tacking the additional tuition onto her already bulging $175,000 education debt, she feels ill. With her financial aid for this year determined, she predicts struggling to make ends meet.

"I honestly have no idea where the extra money is going to come from," Lane says. "My financial aid for this year was decided months ago. I'm hugely disappointed, but I'm lucky this is my last year."

For Avery Kasten, the extra $15,000 she likely needs to attend her first year at Oklahoma State's veterinary college is draining, yet she's better off than most. A professor at Rutgers University, where she received her undergraduate degree, had an inside track on New Jersey politics and warned her the VMEP might be in jeopardy. To prepare, Kasten applied for the maximum financial aid she could receive.

"I'm luckier than other students; some of them don't even know," she says. "The college is being very cooperative, but there's not much they can do. When I went into my interviews, the whole plan was that I was getting the contract. I'm very disappointed."

New Jersey turmoil

So is Rick Alampi, executive director of the New Jersey Veterinary Medical Association, who describes the state's political climate as chaos. The membership organization promises to lobby for full funding next year as will the Veterinary Medicine Education Advisory Committee, a group comprised of practitioners across the state, actively advocating for the program's restoration.

Yet how far those efforts go remains to be seen. New Jersey has a reputation for political corruption and private agendas, Alampi says. On June 30, an unprecedented 10-day government shut down due to budget wrangling cost New Jersey an estimated $50 million.

The lost revenue's impact on the future health of VMEP is uncertain, Alampi says. "It's tough to make any kind of prediction."