N.J. expands free community college program to remaining six schools in state

By Eric Strauss
New Jersey | May 3, 2019 at 12:18 pm

New Jersey’s program that would make community colleges tuition-free for qualifying students has expanded to all 19 county colleges in the Garden State, the Governor’s Office has announced.

The program, which began with a pilot effort at 13 of the state’s two-year schools, will now include the remaining six for the current spring semester. They include:

  • Brookdale Community College (Monmouth County;
  • County College of Morris;
  • Essex County College;
  • Raritan Valley Community College (Somerset County);
  • Rowan College at Burlington County; and
  • Sussex County Community College.

“With this expansion, students in need at all 19 of our community colleges will have access to an education that is within financial reach and allows them to worry about their grades instead of how they will pay for school,” Gov. Phil Murphy said in a statement. “We know that if our students can obtain a higher education, our communities become more prosperous, their employers become more competitive and the state economy becomes more innovative and attractive to businesses. I look forward to providing this critical opportunity to students at all 19 community colleges for the upcoming Fall and Spring semester.”

The initial program, dubbed the Community College Opportunity Grant, began in January after 13 colleges were chosen in 2018 through an application called the Community College Innovation Challenge.

“We initially pursued a pilot approach at 13 community colleges to ensure that the program costs did not exceed the funds appropriated,” Secretary of Higher Education Zakiya Smith Ellis said in a statement. “Throughout the pilot, all 19 county colleges have been working to build capacity for the program expansion and to share learnings and best practices during implementation, with the goal of expanding in the fall.

“We are delighted to announce that we now have room to expand this opportunity even earlier than anticipated to benefit all eligible students statewide.”

Students must meet a variety of criteria to be eligible for the grant, including enrolling in at least six credits and coming from a family with an adjusted gross income of less than $45,000, as well as completing the application for federal and state financial aid. The “last-dollar” grant would cover any gap remaining between tuition and fees and the student’s other financial aid grants.

Current students at the six newly-eligible schools will be processed for potential eligibility and do not need to complete any additional application to be considered, the state said.

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Eric Strauss | estrauss@roi-nj.com | acerimrat