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Law permanently establishes Community College Opportunity Grant program

Gov. Phil Murphy has signed a bill (A-4410) into law which permanently establishes the Community College Opportunity Grant (CCOG) program, which will allow qualified students to attend any New Jersey community college without tuition or educational fees.

“For far too long, higher education has been out of reach for countless New Jerseyans due to its high cost,” Murphy was quoted as saying in a press release. “This (law) 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.”

CCOG, which will be administered by the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority (HESAA), 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, according to the press release.

Students with an adjusted gross income of $65,000 or less will be eligible to receive this financial grant for a total of five semesters. The legislation directs the Legislature to appropriate funding for the “Student Success Incentive” to the Office of the Secretary of Higher Education, for distribution to each county college.

The funding will be used to support outreach and student success initiatives to further the goals of the CCOG program, according to the press release.

The CCOG program was initially enacted through budget language in the Fiscal Year 2019 appropriations act. The program received a $20 million appropriation in Fiscal Year 2019 and a $25 million appropriation in Fiscal Year 2020, according to the press release.

The appropriation to the program for the Fiscal Year 2020 three-month budget extension totaled $10 million and the appropriation in the Fiscal Year 2021 appropriations act for the nine-month period was also $10 million, making the total financial aid funding for that 12-month period $20 million.

For the current Fiscal Year budget of 2022, Murphy has proposed $27 million to support the CCOG program, according to the press release.

“The Community College Opportunity Grant program has provided valuable opportunities for low-income students and working parents to advance their education and expand their career opportunities,” said Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex), chair of the Senate Education Committee.

“It represents a monumental step toward a more equitable higher education landscape by ensuring an associate’s degree is accessible to all New Jersey residents regardless of their economic status.

“Education is our greatest equalizer and by codifying this program into state law, we have ensured it will be available to all who need it in the years to come,” Ruiz said.

Aaron Fichtner, president of the New Jersey Council of County Colleges, said, “As a result of this investment, thousands of New Jerseyans are able to embark on career pathways, to prepare for jobs that pay family supporting wages, and to contribute directly to the state’s economic growth and recovery.”

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