Contact: Catherine Starghill
Director of Strategy, Outreach & Communications
(609) 392-3434 or
February 26, 2021
For Immediate Release
Governor Murphy Makes Community College Tuition-Free for New Jersey Residents
New Jersey’s 18 Community Colleges thank Governor Murphy for his vision and leadership in making a Community College education tuition-free for so many New Jersey residents. Today, New Jersey becomes just one of 16 states with College Promise programs making college free to its residents. By signing this law, the Governor ensures that current and future students have the certainty to know that this program will be there for them now and into the future.
The Community College Opportunity Grant program provides a last-dollar scholarship to attend a Community College for individuals in households earning $65,000 adjusted gross income or less. The program was first established in the state’s FY 2019 budget and assisted more than 18,000 students last year, including recent high school graduates and working adults. These students enrolled in a Community College and embarked on a pathway toward earning college degrees and credentials. This program expands economic opportunity while helping New Jersey build a productive and innovative workforce that enables economic growth and recovery.
“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” according to Aaron Fichtner, President of the New Jersey Council of County Colleges.
New Jersey’s 18 Community Colleges, as the only educational institutions with statewide reach, provide essential opportunities to more than 300,000 New Jersey residents each year. Over 200,000 students – more than half of all undergraduate students in all public colleges and universities in the state – are enrolled in credit and degree programs at New Jersey’s Community Colleges. Equity and access priorities are advanced everyday with 50% of all students enrolled in New Jersey’s Community Colleges being non-white.
The Community College Opportunity Grant program is an important investment in students and in the state’s economic future. This tuition financial aid program supports the most vulnerable residents for whom a college education is unaffordable. This law puts the Community College Opportunity Grant program on par with other highly respected, need- and merit-based college support programs such as TAG and NJ Stars. As New Jerseyans face the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, the Community College Opportunity Grant serves as a pathway for the state’s residents to attain the education needed to move forward and succeed.
Here are the stories of those students:
Atlantic Cape Community College
Paula Martin Vega
Without a Community College Opportunity Grant, Paula Martin Vega’s dream of earning an Associate's Degree in psychology seemed unattainable, especially during these challenging times. After earning her associate's degree, she hopes to become a child psychologist. Her parents have always taught her the value of education as well as becoming a professional and contributing knowledge to society. Both of Paula’s parents and her sisters earned college degrees in Colombia. She is the first in her family to study in higher education in the United States.
Camden County College
At 27 years old Morgan McGrath, completed her first college semester at Camden County College as a pre-nursing major in spring 2020, after a five-year gap in her education. The CCOG grant made it possible for Morgan to enroll in college. When she found out about the grant, Morgan says it was a huge relief knowing that she would have a way to pay for college and that she was closer to reaching her educational goals. She’s now completed three semesters at CCC and, although it’s been a challenging year with new obstacles, she says she’s so excited to have this opportunity to continue her education.
Camden County College
Luke Ottinger transferred to Camden County College from another community college in 2018 to complete the Our Lady of Lourdes Nursing program. Luke became eligible for CCOG in the Fall of 2020. He chose an accelerated program despite the added difficulty because of extreme financial hardship. The CCOG grant made it possible for Luke to achieve his dreams. Luke has taken and passed his licensing exam and is looking for work as a Registered Nurse.
Essex County College
Daniel Rivas was furloughed from his job at the start of the pandemic giving him the perfect opportunity to attend Essex County College. Without the Community College Opportunity Grant, Daniel Rivas would not have been able to return to college after seven years and afford the cost of tuition and fees. The CCOG granted Daniel the chance to be able to complete his degree program that he started so many years ago without having to worry about covering the costs. Daniel is grateful for this program and the many opportunities it has provided him and others so they may have the same luck to complete their academic journey without any financial concerns.
Hudson County Community College
Suleiny Rodriguez immigrated to this country four years ago and she found it difficult to continue her education in college until she discovered Hudson County Community College. Suleiny says that the college cares about her academic success and growth, and assisted her in obtaining a Community College Opportunity Grant to pursue a culinary career. The CCOG grant has been “much more than a blessing”. The grant has allowed her to pursue her studies full-time, without having to work full-time to pay for her college-level courses. Suleiny is immensely thankful for the people that make this financial assistance possible and available for her and to other students across the state.
Mercer County Community College
Christian Perez initially attended Rutgers University immediately after high school to study engineering. Christian realized that he was not prepared for college. He struggled in his classes and lost almost all of his financial aid. He spent a year working minimum wage jobs and barely making ends meet. Christian was determined to pursue a college education and to build a better life. He enrolled at MCCC, at first paying his entire way. He soon exhausted his savings and was worried that he would be unable to continue at the college until he was told about CCOG. The program covered all of his tuition, allowing him to stay in school. He’s now in his second year as a Game Design major, and he just added a double-major in Communications. He says that CCOG gave him a second chance.
Areli Agruilar-Torres would describe herself as thankful. She is a Latina born in Mexico but has lived in New Jersey since the age of 5 and had the opportunity to become an NJ Dreamer. CCOG has provided Areli with a life-changing opportunity to attend college. Areli works full-time while attending college in order to support herself and her family. As the first in her family to attend college, Areli is building the foundation for her teenage children to follow in her footsteps. Areli thanks CCOG and MCC for giving her the opportunity to plant seeds of prosperity for herself and her family’s future generations.
Passaic County Community College
Paulo J. Almiron
As a first-generation college student, Paulo J. Almiron considered finances to be one of his biggest worries about attending college. However, the Community College Opportunity Grant made it possible for Paulo to continue his studies at Passaic County Community College. Paulo says that the CCOG had a positive impact on himself and his education, because now he can fully focus on his academics and co-curricular activities, while also getting a high-quality education.
Raritan Valley Community College
Chelsea Castro comes from a single parent home and is a child of a parent who never had an opportunity to go to college. She says that the CCOG has had a major impact on her education and life. It has allowed her to fulfill her dreams of receiving a nursing education. Chelsea says she is proud to be both a recipient of CCOG and a soon-to-be graduate from a community college. She credits where she is today to the grant and the help of staff in the RVCC financial aid department. This grant has given her a high-quality education and the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of her future patients. Chelsea looks forward to paying this kindness forward in her future career as a nurse.
Rowan College at Burlington County
Domenica Rosati is in her second year at Rowan College at Burlington County (RCBC). She chose RCBC because of the affordable cost but was worried about her ability to pay for her college education. Now Domenica believes that the Community College Opportunity Grant has been critical to her success in college. She plans to transfer to a four-year college and to pursue an education and career in Music Education. She works part-time as a student worker at RCBC and she loves her job. Domenica is grateful for the opportunities given to her from the CCOG and she looks forward to the future.
Salem Community College
The Community College Opportunity Grant has given Colin Durham the chance to pursue his education and to pursue a career as a nurse. Colin graduated from Salem's practical nursing program last year and is now currently enrolled in Salem's ADN program, where he is on track to become a Registered Nurse. Colin says that CCOG has provided him with the necessary funds to allow him to focus on what matters most: his education.
Sussex County Community College
Bryan Paes is a “proud working-class New Jersey student” working 40 hours a week while attending full-time classes at Sussex County Community College. He says that receiving the Community College Opportunity Grant has been an incredible gift allowing him to pursue a college education.
Union County College
When Vincent Eyvon first learned that he was eligible for the Community College Opportunity Grant, he says he immediately felt as though a weight had been lifted off of his shoulders. This program has provided Vincent with the opportunity to invest all of his energy in bettering himself and his community, rather than scrambling to pay for his tuition.
Warren Community College
As a non-traditional student, James Unterwald says that the Community College Opportunity Grant has changed his life tremendously. He needed a new direction for his life and wanted to earn a college degree. James is pursuing a degree in Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) and is excited to pursue a career in a rapidly growing industry. James thoroughly enjoys being a student at Warren and working with the UAS program. He is proud that he is now a student lab assistant and the group leader that helped the college earn a waiver from the FAA that allows the students at the college to learn to fly drones over populated areas.
About NJCCC: New Jersey’s 18 agile and innovative Community Colleges are prepared to lead in the response to and recovery from this public health and economic crisis and to secure a brighter future for all New Jerseyans. The New Jersey Council of County Colleges provides statewide leadership for the advancement of New Jersey Community Colleges, performs coordinating responsibilities as required by law, and coordinates statewide efforts to build a skilled workforce and improve student success. We encourage you to visit our website at www.njccc.org.