Two years of free college could soon be a reality for low- and middle-income students in New Jersey

New Jersey

NEWARK, NJ– The countdown is underway to see if a proposal to pay full college tuition and fees for middle- and low-income families will become a reality in New Jersey. 

It’s a $50 million plan called the Garden State Guarantee, or GSG, that’s part of Gov. Phil Murphy’s latest budget proposal.  It’s intended to greatly expand a program currently in place at the state’s two-year colleges.  

As significant as the proposal may be — it could save families up to $22,000 a year — some parents and their student children don’t seem to know about it.

“It would be a help out tremendously,” said Jamil Phelps, the father of a student entering high school at Marion P. Thomas Charter School in Newark.  

The school focuses students on college preparation, but statistically, those students’ families are least likely to be able to pay for higher education.  

Newark’s median income is $22,236 a year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That’s more than 40% lower than the statewide median income of  $38,000. Camden’s median income is less than half of the statewide level, $17,000.  

GSG is meant to help families in those communities, and many more across the state, including in suburban and rural areas.  

Eligible families can have an income of $65,000 a year or less.  The program will also assist families with incomes above $65,000 by charging tuition on a sliding scale.  

Bukola Olaseunkanmi, a rising junior at the  Marion P. Thomas school, wants to go to Rutgers in New Brunswick to study literature.  

Currently, that four-year college campus does not offer two-year tuition and fees forgiveness.  The state’s county, or community, colleges do offer programs similar to GSG, and so do four other state university campuses:  Rutgers-Newark, Rutgers-Camden, William Paterson University, and New Jersey City University.

GSG would expand the program to all 13 of the state’s four-year public colleges and universities, including Rutgers in New Brunswick, where Olaseunkanmi wants to go to college.

“Oh my God,” she said, “it’s a dream.”

Her parents are already paying for her sister’s tuition at a historically Black college out of state, she said.

“Two years of my tuition, I think that’s going to be amazing for my parents,” she continued.  “I just don’t want to add any more pressure to my parents.”  

Nasim Singleton will be a senior next year in high school, and was candid about the need for financial assistance for him to achieve his goal of obtaining a bachelor’s degree.

“We don’t have the money to get into college,” he said.

GSG would change that at all state higher education institutions in New Jersey, if it gets approval by the state legislature.  Its leaders, as well as Gov. Murphy, say it can happen. 

Peter Woolley, a political analyst and director of the Fairleigh-Dickinson School of Public and Global Affairs, pointed out that the governor promised GSG in his first campaign, and is now running for re-election, with a $6 billion budget surplus.  

Woolley agreed that the political will and momentum exist, but he adds a word of caution.  

“The risk is that some years down the line, you’re going to have trouble funding it,” Professor Woolley said. “Right now, the state’s flush. Now is the time to move this through, and steamroll any naysayers who are out there, to fulfill an important campaign promise.”

State lawmakers have until July 1 to either approve or amend the GSG funding proposal.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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