NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—On July 10, the state university’s Board of Governors gathered on a video conference call and authorized the steepest tuition hike here in 15 years.
Rutgers University students from New Jersey will pay 6% more for tuition and mandatory fees in the 2023-24 school year, which means the average in-state student’s cost of attending the state school will jump by an additional $487 per semester.
A full-time student attending the School of Arts and Sciences, the most popular of the university’s schools in New Brunswick, will now have to pay $13,674 in annual tuition, plus another $3,172 in mandatory fees.
It’s the largest increase since the in-state rates were jacked up 8% in 2008, a year when state aid to the university was cut by more than 10% and the school’s total budget was only $1.8 billion, a third of what it is today.
The board approved four resolutions to support a $5.4 billion budget, which includes a $77 million deficit and about $159 million in athletics spending.
The tuition hike comes just a few months after several of the school’s faculty unions brought most classes to a halt during an unprecedented, five-day strike.
Prior to 2004, the New Jersey state government provided more funding to Rutgers than the school brought in through tuition and fees, but over time state assistance declined and students were forced to pay the difference through higher tuition and fees.
Today, approximately 27% of Rutgers funding comes from tuition and fees, while about 21% is direct support from the state government. The rest comes mostly from serving medical patients, providing housing and food, and securing sponsorships for research projects.
The state budget signed by Governor Phil Murphy on June 30 included an additional boost of $33 million to Rutgers, a bump which is thought to have come in response to the labor dispute.
Still, other factors such as increased healthcare and energy costs, in addition to labor costs, pressed the university’s budget numbers upward.
The only member of the public to speak about the resolutions opposed any increase.
“The best way to reduce the cost of student debt is to reduce the cost of education in the first place,” said James Harris, a former head of the NJ State Conference of the NAACP.
Harris also spoke against the proposed merger of the university’s two medical schools, a hot topic that dominated much of the July 10 meeting.
Each of the thirteen members of the public who spoke made statements opposing the deal, but that didn’t stop the board from unanimously voting to merge New Jersey Medical School and Robert Wood Johnson Medical School into one unit for accreditation purposes.
The board members, support staff, and public speakers each participated remotely using the zoom videoconferencing software. At least four of the board’s current members don’t actually live in New Jersey, according to the Rutgers website.
The cost of campus housing will also increase 5% under the new budget, while the costs of meal plans—which are required for many on-campus students—will go up 7% at the New Brunswick campus, and 5% in Newark and Camden.
The housing cost hike marks a loss for a coalition that backed the faculty strike in April. Among the “community demands” the unions brought to the bargaining table was a proposed four-year “rent freeze” for campus housing.
But negotiators ultimately struck a deal that did not address that demand, for reasons that were not explained publicly. With their leverage gone, the 2023-24 campus housing cost increase seemed inevitable.
The budget resolutions were approved unanimously by voice vote of the Board of Governors. The four documents were not made available to the public at the time of the meeting, but New Brunswick Today has since obtained them from the University Secretary.
Before closing out the agenda, Board Chairman William Best offered University President Jonathan Holloway the chance to have the last word, but Holloway declined.
“Not on this occasion. Thank you,” said Holloway, the only words he uttered during the 92-minute meeting.
The powerful board’s next scheduled meeting is October 5 on the Newark campus. It is not yet clear if participants or board members will be able to join that meeting using zoom.
Charlie is the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, and the winner of the Awbrey Award for Community-Oriented Local Journalism. He is a proud Rutgers University journalism graduate, a community organizer, and a former independent candidate for mayor of New Brunswick.