It’s a first step to making community college tuition-free across the state. Thirteen of the 19 community colleges in New Jersey were selected to participate in the community college opportunity grant.
“We have an opportunity this spring to get people into school who never thought it could be possible,” said Dr. Steven Rose, president of Passaic County Community College. “This was part of the governor’s proposed budget to the Legislature. He actually asked for $50 million, it got cut to $25 million as the initial pool to start.”
At Passaic County Community College the money will allow anyone making $45,000 or less to go to the school for free during the spring 2019 semester.
“We have a million people in New Jersey who have some college, who started college but never got a recognized credential out of it. The goal is to get those people back to school,” said Rose.
The grant is for people who don’t qualify for full financial aid.
“If you are undocumented, the state has created an alternative FAFSA, an alternative financial aid form that you fill out to document your income,” said Rose.
“It’s not only about getting those credits, but it’s about continuing education as well and preparing our workforce for the future,” said Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh.
Second year student Lissett Suarez says she pays $2,000 a semester with the help of financial aid to go to Passaic County Community College.
“Right now I’m only allowed to take 12 credits because the rest financial aid won’t pay for it. So now I can take more credits and graduate a little bit earlier,” she said.
She wants to go to Rutgers next.
“It’s only my dad who is helping me out, my mom she’s not available to work right now, so it’s just easier to go to community college,” Suarez said. “Most people don’t want to come because it’s just hard on their parents or on themselves. But now if it’s tuition-free for some people, it’ll give them more of a reason to have a career.”
“The pathway out of poverty is with education,” said Paterson’s economic development director Michael Powell. “Ten percent of the population in Paterson has a college degree or above. That means 90 percent of the population doesn’t, so we have a lot of work to do.”
“Finance has been probably the major obstacle for people continuing their education. We’re taking that excuse away from people,” said Rose.
Rose says they will not turn anyone away.
“The first day of school is Jan. 23, we’ll take you up to that date,” he said.
“We had our first presentation yesterday under that bad weather and we had a full house,” said Paterson Council President Maritza Davila.
Paterson officials are confident the pilot program will continue past the spring semester. They hope by September all colleges will be involved in the program.