New Jersey Passes Legislation to Guarantee Tuition-Free Community College for Low-Income Families

By: Michael Mandarino, Follow South Jersey Managing Editor

Photo: Jon Bradley | Follow South Jersey

TRENTON, N.J. — Last week, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy officially signed legislation that makes community college tuition-free for families with an income of $65,000 or lower.

The Community College Opportunity Grant program will allow qualified students to attend any community college in the state with no tuition or educational fees. Grants awarded as part of the program will be administered by New Jersey’s higher education student assistance authority (HESAA), and they will cover any costs that aren’t covered by any other state or federal grant program or scholarship.

“For far too long, higher education has been out of reach for countless New Jerseyans due to its high cost,” Gov. Murphy said in a a statement. “Today’s bill signing underscores our continued commitment to college affordability, ensuring that our young people and working adults have the opportunity to earn post-secondary degrees and advance their promising careers.”

Rowan College of South Jersey is among the schools that will be part of the Community College Opportunity Grant. You can find out if you’re eligible to participate in the program here. Salem County Community College is also part of the program, and you can check out its Community College Opportunity Grant page here.

There are a number of requirements students must fulfill in order to be eligible for the program:

  • Have a total household adjusted gross income not exceeding $65,000
  • Not have a prior college degree
  • Must be a Gloucester/Cumberland County resident
  • Apply for federal/state aid through FAFSA or the New Jersey Alternative Financial Aid application
  • Enroll in at least six course credits for the spring 2021 semester

As part of the state’s fiscal year 2022 budget, Gov. Murphy has proposed a $27 million allocation for the program. The state has allocated $65 million for the program in the prior three fiscal years — including $20 million in 2019 and 2021. Students who receive grant money as part of the program will have their costs covered for a total of five semesters. Although different programs and majors may vary, a typical associate’s degree can be completed in four semesters, which is two academic years without summer courses.

“New Jersey now sends a clear message: county college is tuition-free for students with family incomes of $65,000 or below,” David Socolow, the Executive Director of the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority, said in a press release. “Gov. Murphy has enabled HESAA to back up that promise by filling students’ remaining financial aid gaps with more than 25,000 Community College Opportunity Grants since the spring 2019 semester.”

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