The New Jersey Education Student Assistance Authority launched a pilot program in the spring to help students from lower-income families attend community college tuition free.

The Community College Opportunity Grant program was tested as a one-semester pilot. The so-called “last-dollar” program closed the gap between tuition costs and fees and all other federal and state assistance and scholarships for students whose families earned less than $45,000 annually.

Starting September, the program is being expanded.

David Socolow, the executive director of the New Jersey Higher Education Student Assistance Authority, said the family income threshold for those who want to participate in the grant program, which will include the 2019 fall and 2020 spring semesters, has been raised to $65,000.

He said as long as students are taking at least six credits a semester, and their personal or family income is lower than $65,000 a year, they will be able to attend community college tuition-free.

To participate, they have to apply for financial aid by Sept. 15. More information is available at the HESSA website.

A total of $25 million has been earmarked for the Community College Opportunity Grant program, and an additional $5 million had been appropriated for community colleges to fund student services and be able to do outreach to publicize the program.

“We want to make sure that there are student supports to help students in every way we can with the challenges of getting these degrees," he said.

“The reason this program is so important is because some form of post-secondary training is necessary for students to succeed, for them to get the jobs that are being created."

Socolow noted last spring, after all federal Pell grant and state Tuition Aid Grant money had been awarded, a total of 5,424 county college students were awarded $6 million in Community College Opportunity Grant money.

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