TRENTON — A new program launched last week by the state will provide free tuition and and cover fees for select students who attend one the state’s 19 community colleges next spring.
The pilot program called the Community College Innovation Challenge, which schools must apply to join, is the first step toward Gov. Phil Murphy’s free community college proposal, the details of which were unveiled in the spring.
Local community colleges said Wednesday they are in support of the proposal, which will award colleges as much as $20 million that will be applied directly to eligible students’ accounts.
Atlantic Cape Community College President Barbara Gaba thanked Murphy for recognizing the role of community colleges in providing educational opportunity to students.
“Every day, our college and community colleges across the state work to provide pathways to economic opportunity and socio-economic mobility for the people of New Jersey,” Gaba said. “The Community College Innovation Challenge grant is a critical step forward in achieving the governor’s vision of ‘free’ community college for all people in our state.”
Cumberland County College interim President Shelly Schneider said because the two-year institution serves an at-risk and high-need population, the funding provides resources to the community to strengthen both Cumberland County and the state.
“Cumberland County College has a positive reputation with previous grants, and we definitely plan to apply to be one of the pilots for the state’s free community college initiative for the 2019 spring semester,” Schneider said.
Only a select few colleges will be accepted into the pilot program next spring. At participating colleges, students with adjusted gross incomes up to $45,000, who take six or more credits in the spring 2019 semester, will be eligible to receive the money. The funds will be applied to the balance of the students’ accounts after federal and state aid is deducted.
The pilot application specifies criteria including the colleges’ plans for outreach to and support for students, how their cost projections fit within statewide funding constraints and geographic diversity.
All colleges that submit an application will be eligible to receive a capacity building grant of at least $250,000 to plan for subsequent phases of the program.
“The colleges that are selected to have their students eligible for Community College Opportunity Grants will pilot the most effective approaches to expanding access to high quality higher education. Ultimately, this pilot program will help all 19 colleges implement the Community College Opportunity Grant program to benefit all community college students throughout New Jersey,” Gaba said.
Colleges have until Aug. 31 to submit their applications. Participating institutions will be notified in the early fall to begin planning and recruiting students.
New Jersey Council of County Colleges President Aaron R. Fichtner said the initial $25 million investment is “the first step toward ensuring that all New Jerseyans will have access to the post-secondary education they need to be successful in today’s rapidly changing economy.”