Murphy vows free community college, gives little detail on funding

Surrounded by students from Rowan College at Burlington County, Gov. Phil Murphy renewed his higher education pledge: free tuition at every community college throughout all 21 counties in the state.

“If you talk about free community college for all, which sounds like, ‘Oh my Lord, that’s a big sticker shock.’ In fact, we think it’s about a $200 million annual investment or expense. And I can’t think of a better way to spend that money than to try to achieve that aspiration,” said Murphy.

To emphasize his point, several students were invited to share personal stories focusing on affordability and accessibility.

“It definitely wasn’t my first thought coming out of high school. Being in a home with a single mom, you know what I mean, affording college wasn’t really on my mind,” said Rowan College student Devon Spedden.

Rowan College at Burlington, formerly known as BCC, is one of a few community schools using a new model. Students take 75 percent of their courses there, at a significantly lower cost, but finish their final year and get their degree at Rowan University. On Tuesday, Murphy was urged to support a bill creating similar programs elsewhere and guarantee financial aid eligibility.

RELATED: 3+1 program at Rowan aims to increase enrollment and save students money

“We like to see a seamless pathway from training that we provide at the 19 community colleges for workforce to make them all go into college earning credentials and degrees down the road,” said Sivaraman Anbarasan, CEO and executive director of the New Jersey Community College Consortium.

“I struggle still, even with the lowest tuition in the state, I do still struggle” said Rowan College student Brian O’Neal. “My parents are supporting as much as they can. My father helps pay for my tuition. He has to work two jobs to pay for my tuition and I pay him back, so they don’t have to worry about any interest or anything like that,”

“I applied to most of the schools, but once it came to the price tag, it was just not realistic,” said Rowan College student Mariby Madrigal.

Madrigal is a first generation college student. She calls Rowan College at Burlington County her lifeline to an education.

“I couldn’t afford to go to four-year schools, so coming here gives me a chance to build up my resume,” she said.

But even transition reports from Murphy’s administration do little to detail a budget outline.

“We’re only now because we’ve just been there for three weeks. This is a little unusual even with an extra couple of weeks to deliver the budget. We’re still in the early stages of putting the building blocks together. I don’t think you get this tomorrow,” said Murphy.

The governor’s emphasis is clear and his sights are set high — universal pre-K, fully funding the school formula and free community college. The question is, is he stacking his plate too high?

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