In the fall of 2015, the Camden campus of Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey (Rutgers–Camden), announced plans to implement a last-dollar financial aid program called Bridging the Gap that would eliminate or substantially reduce the cost of tuition and certain fees for in-state students from lower- and middle-income families.

The first report in this series presents findings from interviews conducted with Rutgers–Camden administrators and students who participated in the first cohort of Bridging the Gap, exploring the impact of the program on students’ college application process, transition to college, and financial well-being. Qualitative analysis of these interviews provides early evidence that the program has been successful at expanding financially disadvantaged students’ access to a traditional four-year degree program. However, challenges identified in the interviews, including the difficulty of managing ongoing living and educational expenses beyond tuition, emerged as potential obstacles for students’ persistence in college. Additionally, many students struggle to navigate and make sense of program requirements and bureaucratic processes, particularly with respect to financial aid.