Gov. Phil Murphy approved a bill on his desk Feb. 26 making tuition-free community college a permanent program, setting in stone a key campaign promise of the first-term Democrat.
The existing Community College Opportunity Grant covers the costs of tuition for two-year associate’s degrees for some of the state’s poorest families who have a combined gross income of up to $65,000.
Under his $44.8 billion budget proposal to cover state expenses between July 1 and June 30, 2022, the program would get $27 million.
On top of that, the governor is backing $50 million toward the proposed “Garden State Guarantee Initiative,” which provides tuition-free education at public four-year universities.
“No deserving student should be shut out of a future that a community college education can help because of a tuition bill,” Murphy said Friday morning at a press announcement at the Hudson County Community College campus in Jersey City.
The CCOG program, Murphy continued, would broadly benefit “students who would have either have had to slow down their degree” or drag their education “over seven or 10 years because they had to work their second or third job and couldn’t actually afford to go to school full time.”
“I have heard gut-wrenching testimonials from students who didn’t think they would be able to go to college simply because they did not have the funds to do so,” Brain Bridges, Murphy’s recently confirmed higher education secretary, said on Friday.
The program technically covers just two years and would be complemented by a similar state-run program to cover the costs for a two-year community college degree. Like with the CCOG, income eligibility would be limited to families with a gross income of up to $65,000.
Murphy formally unveiled the pilot program for the CCOG in 2019, with grants that cover up to 18 credits in the fall or spring semester for full-time students. The program benefited 18,000 students last year across the state’s 18 community colleges, according to the New Jersey Council of County Colleges.
The governor on Feb. 26 estimated that 13,000 students were currently enrolled in the program.