CAMDEN, NJ—Some Camden County College students could attend classes in 2019 for free thanks to a pilot program launched by Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration yesterday.

The program, the Community College Innovation Challenge, is the first phase of the governor’s initiative to provide two years of community college free for students across the state. It was officially launched yesterday by Acting Governor Shelia Oliver and New Jersey’s Secretary of Higher Education and the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority.

“Having the opportunity to obtain a college degree was an instrumental part of my life, and in today’s job market, it’s a matter of fairness and equality. Making higher education attainable will help secure a successful future for our students and strengthen New Jersey’s workforce and economy,” Oliver said.

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The state’s 19 community colleges will have until Aug. 31 to apply for up to $20 million in Community College Opportunity Grant awards. According to Camden County College President Donald Borden, the college has already started its application.

"We were informed yesterday of the criteria, and we are already gathering data and putting a team together to put a proposal in," Borden said. "Camden County College is going to do everything possible to try to make sure that we can get this benefit for our students. That's our hope, and that’s our intention."

If it’s accepted into the program, students at Camden Community College with an adjusted annual gross income between $0 and $45,000, and enrolled to take classes worth six or more credits in the spring 2019 semester, will be eligible to have their tuition covered with the new grant. The grants will cover all costs after any other federal or state grant aid is applied.

Borden said that last year, 17 percent of students who had an annual gross income less than $45,000 received no financial aid at all, "So we do know there are individuals that we need to target to make this opportunity available to them."

“This initial phase will not only help thousands of students next spring, both recent high school graduates and working adults, but also will provide valuable lessons for future expansions of the program to offer free tuition to more students,” David Socolow, executive director of the higher education student assistance authority, said in a statement.

Colleges will be accepted into the program based on the colleges’ plans for outreach to and support for students, how their cost projections fit within statewide funding constraints, and geographic diversity.

Each college that submits an application will also be eligible be to receive a capacity building grant of at least $250,000 to plan for subsequent phases of the program.

"I’m making the assumption that everybody is going to apply for the program, because its an opportunity to provide for accessibility to an education for some of our most fiscally at risk students," said Borden. "We want to do everything within our power to compete for those funds."