Back in October 2018, Gov. Phil Murphy announced that New Jersey’s free community college initiative would be piloted by 13 community colleges in spring 2019.
Atlantic Cape Community College was one of the colleges selected to participate in the Community College Opportunity Grant (CCOG) program. CCOG supports making higher education more attainable for New Jersey residents by providing additional funding above federal, state or institutional financial aid money to effectively make community college “free” for qualifying students.
The CCOG grant is designed as a “last-dollar” award, which covers any remaining costs of tuition and approved educational fees after applying all other financial aid grant awards to the student’s account. Students coming from families with adjusted gross incomes of up to $45,000 are eligible for CCOG awards.
In Atlantic and Cape May counties, this grant can mean the difference in getting an associate’s degree or not. Federal and state grants can pay for a portion of our students’ tuition then students may need to take out loans to finance their education. But even then there are costs that aren’t covered completely.
Unfortunately, many of our students can’t pay for these additional out-of-pocket expenses. Affordability is a tenet that Atlantic Cape lives by, so an additional resource like CCOG can literally change a student’s future prospects.
As part of Community College Month in April, we’ve talked to students and our local and state officials about the benefits of CCOG to residents of Atlantic and Cape May counties. We were excited to tell the story of how, in just one semester, this pilot program has given students the ability to realize their educational goals.
In fact, to date over 250 students have been awarded CCOG for the spring semester by Atlantic Cape. The recipients who have benefited from this award cut across a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences. Several students work multiple jobs and this grant allowed them to cut their hours in order to concentrate on their studies. And many students are considered “non-traditional;” they are above the age of 21 and have decided to go to college and earn their degree.
Also, many of the recipients are the first in their family to go to college. All of these students are grateful to the state for the CCOG pilot.
As an anchor institution, Atlantic Cape is rooted in the community, dedicated to growing our future leaders and workforce. We are convenient, with three campuses across Atlantic and Cape May counties and we are affordable.
We have smaller class sizes, credits earned at Atlantic Cape are transferable to four-year universities and we have many transfer agreements with local, state and national universities. CCOG is important to us because it allows us to offer college to anyone who is interested in education by counteracting the higher costs associated with a post-secondary degree.
The college is also part of a collaborate initiative between the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development, the state Department of Education and the Office of Higher Education called “Many Paths, One Future.” The shared goal of these three agencies is to ensure that 65 percent of adults in New Jersey have a post-secondary degree or industry-valued credential by 2025. Currently, only 50.2 percent of the workforce meets that criteria. To meet this goal, our residents must be educated.
The key to growing our two counties is through higher education. An increase in residents who have earned degrees invested in South Jersey is what we need to turn our region around. Providing that first step in higher education through Atlantic Cape and CCOG is something that deserves support because, in the end, a highly educated workforce is good for our economy.
Atlantic Cape applauds the efforts of Gov. Murphy and Higher Education Secretary Smith Ellis for bringing free college to New Jersey and we thank them for their vision. Please join me in voicing your support for the inclusion of the CCOG in New Jersey’s budget.