Free college is now guaranteed for as many as 50,000 students in New Jersey as Gov. Phil Murphy Friday signed into law the Community College Opportunity Grant program.
The CCOG, which began in spring 2019 as a pilot program, provides two years of free college for eligible New Jersey residents in order to promote access to higher education degree and certification programs.
"Today we make the Community College Opportunity Grant not merely a matter of doing what is right to advance the dreams of our next generation, but we make advancing the dreams of our next generation a matter of state law," Murphy told reporters and education officials at Hudson County Community College, where he signed the bill.
New Jersey joins 16 states with similar programs making college free to its residents. The legislation also fulfills a campaign goal of this first-term governor.
Considered a "last dollar" grant program the funding is awarded after all other funding sources, like the federal Pell grant, are exhausted. It is open to those living in households earning $65,000 in adjusted gross income or less.
"Certainly it's a very important investment in the state's economic future," Atlantic Cape Community College President Barbara Gaba said. "This program supports the residents for many of whom a college education is unaffordable."
Gaba said the program has been great for Atlantic Cape, where they have been and will continue to highlight CCOG recipients on social media and on their website, and for area residents, young and old, who qualify.
"This really shows the state and the governor's commitment to education at the community college level," Gaba said.
The proposed 2022 state budget includes $27 million in funding for the grant, which is administered through the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority.
The New Jersey Council of County Colleges applauded the move Friday.
"As a result of this investment, thousands of New Jerseyans are able to embark on career pathways, to prepare for jobs that pay family-supporting wages, and to contribute directly to the state's economic growth and recovery," said county college council President Aaron Fichtner.
Murphy said that since the state initially opened the pilot program, the number of participants has tripled from the spring 2019 semester to more than 18,000 as of Friday.
He said the money allows a chance to obtain a degree for students who would have had to either slow down or stop their college pursuits due to income challenges. Murphy said that the state will never lower the income threshold of the grant to below $65,000, but can raise it in the future if funding becomes available.
New Jersey Secretary of Higher Ed Brian Bridges said the program will help the state in reaching its goal of 65% of working adults obtaining a high quality credential by 2025. New Jersey's post-secondary rate is currently at 57%, higher than much of the nation, but the percentage is much lower for minority residents in the state.
More than 200,000 students are enrolled in community college in New Jersey each year.
To learn more about Community College Opportunity Grant Program (CCOG), CLICK HERE.