NEWARK, NJ - Eligible students in Essex County and throughout the state can now take advantage of free community college tuition starting this spring.

The expansion will provide qualifying students with free tuition through the Community College Opportunity Grant (CCOG) at six additional schools starting this semester: Brookdale Community College, County College of Morris, Essex County College, Raritan Valley Community College, Rowan College at Burlington County, and Sussex County Community College.

“With this expansion, students in need at all 19 of our community colleges will have 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,” Governor Phil Murphy said in a statement.

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Essex County College was not selected as one of the 13 community colleges announced last fall to pilot the Community College Opportunity Grant for January 2019 due to budget and sustainability concerns. The pilot approach was used to ensure that program costs did not exceed the funds appropriated for the program, said Secretary of Higher Education Zakiya Smith Ellis.

The state allocated $25 million for the program with $20 million in funding set aside to go directly toward student tuition and the remaining $5 million was put towards the $250,000 planning grant all colleges received.

“Throughout the pilot, all 19 county colleges have been working to build capacity for the program expansion and to share learnings and best practices during implementation with the goal of expanding in the fall,” said Smith Ellis. “We are delighted to announce that we now have room to expand this opportunity even earlier than anticipated to benefit all eligible students statewide.”

To qualify, students must be enrolled in at least six credits this spring, make satisfactory academic progress, come from families that earn less $45,000 and complete the application for federal and state financial aid.

The grant will supplement any gap remaining between total tuition, covered educational fees, and financial aid grants students may receive. Currently, enrolled students at these six institutions will be screened for eligibility within the next few weeks and do not need to submit any additional application.

In March, Murphy released his plan to make higher education more affordable and accessible particularly for students of color and low-income students to graduate. A month later in April, he signed a bill to make student loans more affordable and provide relief for graduates haunted by insurmountable debt.

According to 2019 enrollment data, current funding for CCOG will be able to cover eligible students at all 19 county colleges.

“A greater share of students are received other aid this semester, including Federal Pell grants and State Tuition Aid Grant, than was the case in prior years, said David Socolow, Executive Director of the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority.

The Office of the Secretary of Higher Education and the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority jointly administer the Community College Opportunity Grant program.