Working toward tuition-free community college

New law permanently establishes grant program for eligible students

Assemblyman Nicholas Chiaravalloti speaks at the bill signing at HCCC.
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Assemblyman Nicholas Chiaravalloti speaks at the bill signing at HCCC.

On Friday, Feb. 26, Gov. Phil Murphy, members of the New Jersey legislature, students, and representatives at Hudson County Community College met in Jersey City for the signing of legislation that will permanently codify the Community College Opportunity Grant (CCOG) Program into law.

“For far too long, higher education has been out of reach for countless New Jerseyans due to its high cost,” Murphy said. “Today’s bill signing underscores our continued commitment to college affordability, ensuring that our young people and working adults have the opportunity to earn post-secondary degrees and advance their promising careers.”

Opening opportunities

The bill permanently establishes the CCOG Program in the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority (HESAA). The legislation is part of Murphy’s efforts to make tuition-free community college a reality, by allowing qualified students to attend any state community college without tuition or educational fees.

As it stands under CCOG, New Jersey students enrolled in any of the state’s 18 community colleges may be able to have their tuition waived. Students must be enrolled in at least six credits per semester and have an adjusted gross income of $0 to $65,000 in order to be considered.

CCOG will provide last-dollar grants to eligible county college students for those tuition costs and fees not already covered by any other state, federal, and institutional need-based grants and merit scholarships. Eligible students will receive this grant for five semesters.

This legislation also directs the state legislature to appropriate funding for the “Student Success Incentive” to the Office of the Secretary of Higher Education, for distribution to each county college. This funding will support outreach and student success initiatives to further the goals of the CCOG grant program.

For more information on CCOG, visit https://www.hesaa.org/Pages/ccog.aspx.

Local officials approve

Present at the ill signing was Assemblyman Nicholas Chiaravalloti, who represents the 31st Legislative District, which includes Bayonne and Jersey City.

“The Community College Opportunity Grant Program is an investment in our children’s futures, and it has the potential to transform the lives of a generation of students,” he said. “As someone who works in higher education, I am proud to sponsor a bill that will remove a significant barrier to vulnerable students’ success.”

He continued: “This tuition scholarship program supports our most vulnerable residents, for whom a college education is unaffordable. CCOG … also builds a skilled workforce that will close critical skills gaps in our state.

“At Hudson County Community College, I am constantly amazed by the perseverance of the students. They come to class every day prepared and ready to learn, and I have found that this has not changed even though we have switched to remote learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

State Senator Sandra Cunningham, chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee, said, “County colleges have long played a vital role in educating students from working-class families across New Jersey. By providing ‘last dollar’ financial aid to eligible students, we will make sure they have every opportunity to graduate without having to take on burdensome student loans.”

“We thank the Governor, our state and local officials, HCCC Trustees, students, alumni, friends, and colleagues,” said Dr. Chris Reber, President of Hudson County Community College. “CCOG is an investment in the people of our communities and their dreams. The program is providing life-changing opportunities for students to acquire postsecondary educational credentials that open doors to fulfilling careers with family-sustaining wages.”

For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at disrael@hudsonreporter.com.