TRENTON, NJ— Some county college students in Bergen County could attend classes in 2019 for free thanks to a pilot program launched by Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration this week. 

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 on Tuesday 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. Bergen Community College is currently preparing its application, according to its President Dr. Michael D. Redmond who hailed the announcement as ushering in a "new era of support and opportunities." 

"This initiative will enhance the ability of community colleges -- already renowned for their accessibility, high quality programs and affordable tuition -- to serve New Jersey's hardworking families," said Dr. Redmond. "Simply, this plan will help greater numbers of students achieve their goals of earning a college degree and contribute to the state's economic development by producing graduates prepared to meet the demands of today's workforce." 

Once county colleges are accepted into the program students 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.

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.