Three local community colleges will be part of a pilot program to offer free two-year post-secondary education for students, Gov. Phil Murphy said Thursday.
“In today’s ever-changing economy, more and more New Jerseyans will need a post-secondary credential or degree in order to have a career that provides a family-sustaining wage,” said Atlantic Cape Community College President Barbara Gaba. “Atlantic Cape provides access to socio-economic mobility and opportunities for the people of our county (or counties) to improve their lives.”
In addition to Atlantic Cape, Cumberland County and Ocean County colleges were also named as recipients. In all, 13 community colleges were accepted into the pilot and all 19 in the state applied, Murphy said.
The free college initiative was launched over the summer by Murphy, marking the beginning of fulfilling a campaign promise he made as a candidate last year.
Murphy made the announcement from Union County College alongside Gaba and other state higher education officials.
“Our goal is to set New Jersey on a new economic trajectory,” he said. “Every New Jerseyan deserves an equal opportunity to pursue their dreams.”
The pilot program called the Community College Innovation Challenge invited schools to apply for grants totaling $20 million that will be applied directly to eligible students’ accounts.
At participating colleges, students with adjusted annual gross incomes up to $45,000, who take six or more credits in the spring 2019 semester, will receive the money. The funds will be applied to the balance of the students’ accounts after federal and state aid is deducted.
“If you get three-quarters of the way there, we’re taking you the last quarter of the way home, today,” Murphy said during the news conference.
He said the students will have to maintain academic standards to remain eligible.
“We need to return to the ideal that if you work hard you can get ahead,” Murphy said. “Things like your background or your current economic status should not ever be a road block to success.”
The pilot application specified criteria including the colleges’ plans for outreach to and support for students, how their cost projections fit within statewide funding constraints and geographic diversity.
The Higher Education Student Assistance Authority estimates that the pilot will award money to 13,000 students at the 13 selected institutions. The funding is allocated from the state budget.
Murphy said he is pleasantly surprised by how far the $25 million will go, although he had earmarked $50 million in funding in his proposed 2019 budget.
All colleges that submitted an application will receive a capacity building grant of $250,000 to plan for subsequent phases of the program. Murphy said this year’s pilot will be a learning process.
“We applaud Gov. Murphy’s vision and commitment to expanding college access and affordability, and his belief in community colleges as a solution to help improve the state,” said New Jersey Council of County Colleges President Aaron R. Fichtner. “This pilot program will provide the community colleges the opportunity to learn and collaborate to inform future statewide efforts to expand access to higher education.”
Current students who have already completed a financial aid application for the fall 2018 semester will be automatically considered for eligibility. Students who have not yet filed for financial aid for academic year 2018-2019 will have until Feb. 15, 2019 to apply for the grant awards by completing the Federal Application for Federal Student Aid and the supplemental New Jersey state questions, or by completing the Alternative Application for New Jersey Dreamers.