NEWARK, NJ - Essex County College was not one of the colleges selected by Gov. Phil Murphy's administration to receive a subsidy that would help pay unmet tuition for eligible students.

All 19 community colleges in the state applied to participate in the Community College Innovation Challenge for a shot at the Community College Opportunity Grant (CCOG), which would cover remaining balances after applying other financial aid for students. Starting in January, students who come from families that make less than $45,000 a year will be eligible for the grant at the chosen colleges.

Thirteen other "pilot" colleges were selected to receive the grant, the governor's office announced Sept. 27. Each community college - even the ones that were not selected for the full program - will receive at least $250,000 in planning funds to build capacity for future expansion of the program.

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Essex County College President Anthony Munroe anticipates that the school will be able to receive the CCOG for its students in the future. The college is gearing up for that now, he said.

“When fully implemented, this initiative will be boon for the entire state of New Jersey, and especially for the many residents who will be eligible for the free tuition,” Munroe said in a statement.  “It is extremely important we work together to position ourselves to take full advantage of state CCOG money as it becomes available over the next few years.”

The state budget for this fiscal year allocated $25 million for the program: $20 million was set aside for the CCOG that students receive, while $5 million was put towards the $250,000 planning grant each college received. 

Some state lawmakers initially wanted to cut the whole program to $5 million. Murphy initially proposed $50 million for the program.

Essex County College spokesman Wayne Yourstone said that while the college wasn't selected for the tuition grant, it could receive up to $305,000 for the planning grant. 

Tuition and required fees for Essex County College students who live in-district cost about $5,000 in the 2017-2018 academic year, according to state data.

Over 70 percent of ECC students receive assistance from financial aid and the educational opportunity fund (EOF) programs. Students at the college also receive over $700,000 in scholarships and grants each year, Yourstone said in a statement.

Still, Yourstone said, there is a "large population" in Essex County that needs help paying for college. 

Colleges’ applications were selected based on criteria that were announced in the state's Notice of Fund Availability, which was posted on July 31, 2018.

Each application was reviewed by the state Office of the Secretary of Higher Education and the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority. The state hopes to eventually expand the program to all colleges by the fall 2019 semester. 

“Our hope is that all 19 community colleges will benefit from learnings during this pilot phase,” said New Jersey Secretary of Higher Education Zakiya Smith Ellis in a statement. “Every college submitted a unique, thoughtful, and creative application, with many good ideas for increasing access and affordability tailored to the students and communities that each college serves.”

The selected colleges were chosen based on the quality of their application and how each institution’s projected costs fit in with the program funding "constraints," the notice said. Consideration was also given to ensure geographic diversity across the state. 

Applications were considered based upon three main criteria: outreach, support and costs and data.

In the area of outreach, a college had to prove how it would get new students to enroll. The college also had to show how it would let students know about the opportunity to go tuition-free.

For support, the college had to describe resources it had to ensure students complete their academic programs.

Colleges also had to provide data about how much each student received in federal, state and institutional aid and any unmet needs. Each college also had to outline steps to keep tuition and fee increases at "reasonable levels" in future years.

The state estimates 13,000 students will be eligible for the CCOG grants at the 13 selected colleges.

The following colleges were chosen: Atlantic Cape Community College; Bergen Community College; Camden County College; Cumberland County College; Hudson County Community College; Mercer County Community College; Middlesex County College; Ocean County College; Passaic County Community College; Rowan College at Gloucester County; Salem Community College; Union County College; and Warren County Community College.

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