College students in New Jersey could have their entire four-year bachelor degree subsidized by the state, under a proposed student grant in Gov. Phil Murphy’s $40.9 billion budget.
The Garden State Grant program, unveiled Tuesday, would clock in at $50 million a year, and goes beyond the $25 million in the current budget for free-community college.
Under that program, known as the Community College Opportunity Grant program, the state awards scholarships on a first-come, first-serve basis to cover the cost of an associate’s degree. State officials expect 9,500 students to take part in the program in the 2021 fiscal year, which begins July 1. That is still far from the estimated 325,000 community college students in New Jersey.
But Murphy, who campaigned on “community college for all,” maintained at a press conference Wednesday morning at William Paterson University that his administration can “walk and chew gum” at the same time by focusing on both programs.
Under the GSG, the state’s Higher Education Student Assistance Authority would allocate funding to 13 yet-to-be-determined universities, who would, in turn, cover the students’ cost of tuition.
“We’ve got great institutions of higher education, we got a great public school system, we’re the most diverse state in America … but we’ve got to make sure that works for everybody,” Murphy said.
With both programs, only students with a family income of up to $65,000 would be eligible for state aid, up from the original $45,000 when the details of the CCOG were rolled out in 2018.
A condition of the 13 universities’ participation in the program is that they develop a “sliding scale pricing structure” for students above that threshold, as well as a “locked-in tuition price” provided to “all students through the duration of their academic program.”
The dollars would not be available until the Fall 2021 academic semester, which typically starts after Labor Day weekend at the start of September.
Tuesday’s program comes amid efforts nationwide to curtail student debt, which last year ballooned to $1.5 trillion.
We’ve got great institutions of higher education, we got a great public school system, we’re the most diverse state in America … but we’ve got to make sure that works for everybody.
– Gov. Phil Murphy
The 2021 budget calls for $437 million in tuition aid grants – still $19.7 million less than last year – $6.9 million toward the New Jersey Student Tuition Assistance Reward Scholarship program, typically called NJSTARS, and $49 million toward the Educational Opportunity Fund grant and scholarship program.
“We know students drop out of college – or worse, rule it out as an option for them — because they believe the price tag is unaffordable,” Murphy added in a Wednesday morning statement.
The prospects of Murphy’s proposal making it through legislative scrutiny are far from certain.
Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick, R-21st District, said he would prefer a partial tuition assistance program rather than the full 100 percent so that students have more “skin in the game.”
And last year, the Democrat-controlled state Legislature cut out $28.5 million of the money that Murphy wanted to put towards the CCOG.