New Jersey’s program to make community college tuition-free for eligible students has been expanded to all 19 county colleges in the current Spring semester.

Back in January, 13,000 students at 13 county colleges began the Community College Opportunity Grant program as a pilot initiative.

The last six schools added to the program for qualifying students are Brookdale Community College, County College of Morris, Essex County College, Raritan Valley Community College, Rowan College at Burlington County and Sussex County Community College.

The Community College Opportunity Grant program pays for whatever tuition and approved educational fees aren’t covered by federal and state need-based aid and merit scholarships for students with adjusted gross incomes of $45,000 or less.

Students who have already filled out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, are automatically considered for the program without having to do anything, according to David Socolow, executive director of the state Higher Education Student Assistance Authority.

“We initially pursued a pilot approach at 13 community colleges to ensure that the program costs did not exceed the funds appropriated. 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,” Secretary of Higher Education Zakiya Smith Ellis said.

The Office of the Secretary of Higher Education and the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority are offering the state program.

The budget for the program was $25 million, which included money for planning grants for the colleges. That wasn’t as much money as Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration had requested, so it was limited in its first year to the spring semester and to 13 pilot colleges.

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