Free tuition expands to all of N.J.’s community colleges, Murphy says

All of New Jersey’s community colleges will now offer some students the opportunity to get a tuition-free education, Gov. Phil Murphy announced this week.

Murphy’s administration in January began doling out $25 million in taxpayer money for 13 of the state’s 19 community colleges to launch a pilot version of the program, allowing certain low-income students to go to school without having to pay for tuition themselves.

Now, the Democratic governor said, there’s enough funding in the current state budget for the program to be expanded to all of the schools for the current spring semester.

It’s another step in Murphy’s ultimate goal of offering two years of free community college tuition to all Garden State residents.

He’s not there yet. The current system is limited, with stipulations, to students coming from families who earn $45,000 or less.

Murphy said this will give students access to “an education that is within financial reach and allows them to worry about their grades instead of how they will pay for school.”

“We know that if our students can obtain a higher education, our communities become more prosperous, their employers become more competitive, and the state economy becomes more innovative and attractive to businesses,” the governor said in a statement.

The six schools joining the program are: Brookdale Community College; County College of Morris; Essex County College; Raritan Valley Community College; Rowan College at Burlington County; and Sussex County Community College.

To qualify for the Community College Opportunity Grants, students also must enroll in at least six credits — typically two classes — this spring, make satisfactory academic progress, and have completed an application for federal and state financial aid.

The grant covers any gap remaining between a student’s tuition and educational fees and all other financial aid they receive.

It’s unclear how many students will benefit from the expansion. Murphy’s administration estimated that 13,000 students at the first 13 schools would be eligible for the program.

Murphy has proposed $58.5 million to continue the program in his second state budget proposal, which must be approved by the state Legislature and signed into law by July 1. That’s a $33.5 million increase from the funding in the current budget.

If approved, that money would cover 18,000 at all 19 schools.

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