The state has begun encouraging community college students to apply for financial aid and potentially qualify for a tuition-free academic year under the expanded Community College Opportunity Grant.

The program was expanded by the Legislature to include students in families with incomes up to $65,000 in 2019-20, up from the $45,000 threshold in the program’s first year.

The deadline to apply by filling out the regular Free Application for Federal Student Aid or the state’s alternative form for undocumented immigrants known as NJ Dreamers is in a little over six weeks.

“If you want to go for the whole academic year, starting this fall, you need to get your financial aid applications done by Sept. 15,” said David Socolow, executive director of the state Higher Education Student Assistance Authority. “So we’re urging anyone who’s thinking about enrolling or has enrolled but didn’t get those applications done, now’s the time to do it this summer.”

The CCOG is a ‘last dollar’ program that covers all tuition and regular fees not covered by other programs, such as federal Pell Grants. The program wasn’t funded by the Legislature at the level sought by Murphy – $30 million, as opposed to $58.5 million – and so changes have been made.

“We have worked to build a program that fits the allocated funding available,” Socolow said.

Murphy removed summer courses from the program, which lawmakers sought to add, through a line-item veto.

“This will be for fall of 2019 and spring of 2020, and we’ll be able to make it tuition-free for more students,” Socolow said. “But we’re not going to be able to do those summer courses.”

Socolow said the grants also won’t pay for all fees for career and technical education programs, despite the Legislature urging that those be added.

“There were a number of very high special fees for certain courses that will not be covered,” he said. “So while it is tuition-free and we will cover many fees, we are not able to cover all of the fees for certain courses. We’ll cover all the general fees that all students pay, but not some of the specialty programs.”

Socolow said final statistics about the number of students who got grants in the spring 2019 semester, the program’s first, as well as its total cost, will be finalized and announced soon.

The program is available to students at all 18 community colleges in the state. There used to be 19 community colleges, but the communities colleges at Cumberland and Gloucester counties have now merged into one school with two campuses, known as Rowan College of South Jersey.

New Jersey: Decoded cuts through the cruft and gets to what matters in New Jersey news and politics. Follow on Facebook and Twitter.

Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5 and the editor of New Jersey: Decoded. Follow @NJDecoded on Twitter and Facebook. Contact him at

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