State Selects Bergen for Coveted $20 Million Grant

Gov. Phil Murphy, who announced the Community College Opportunity Grant recipients Sept. 27, spoke at Bergen’s commencement ceremony in May.

PARAMUS, N.J. – Bergen Community College has earned the state’s Community College Opportunity Grant, the result of a competitive process that will award the College and 12 other institutions $20 million to provide a tuition-free college experience to students with household incomes of less than $45,000.

Gov. Phil Murphy announced the Free Community College Innovation Challenge in July, encouraging the state’s 19 community colleges to submit applications for the grant, which will begin as a pilot in the spring 2019 semester. With less than a month to meet an Aug. 31 application deadline, each college developed unique strategies and tactics for implementing the grant and raising awareness among potential students. The state then selected the 13 strongest submissions – including Bergen’s – for $20 million in shared grants. Additionally, all 19 colleges, including Bergen, will receive $250,000 each to implement awareness programs.

Gov. Murphy announced the recipients at a Sept. 27 event in Cranford. Bergen board of trustees Chair Carol Otis and Treasurer Dorothy Blakeslee and President Michael D. Redmond, Ph.D., attended.

“While I am extremely proud for Bergen Community College and its selection among the grantees, I am most excited for our students and the new opportunities that now await them,” Chair Otis said. “This program will open the door to a college education for many who may not otherwise thought it to be possible.”

President Redmond thanked Gov. Murphy, who delivered remarks at Bergen’s commencement ceremony in May – his first at any of the state’s community colleges.

“With this program, Gov. Murphy has sent a clear message that community colleges remain integral to the education and workforce development priorities in our state,” President Redmond said. “His leadership in supporting community colleges will help usher in a new era of opportunities for New Jersey students and working families.”

“I would also like to commend our staff, who developed an application that conveyed innovative strategies for implementing this program and impacting the lives of current and future Bergen students,” Redmond continued. “We must now pivot to carrying out the work outlined in our lofty goals.”

New Jersey Council of County Colleges President Aaron R. Fichtner, Ph.D., works with the institutions on a variety of matters – including affordability initiatives and student success programs. He also attended the launch event Sept. 27.

“We applaud Governor Murphy’s vision and commitment to expanding college access and affordability, and his belief in community colleges as a solution to help improve the state,” he said. “This pilot program will provide the community colleges the opportunity to learn and collaborate to inform future statewide efforts to expand access to higher education.”

In total, the program invests $25 million in community colleges, seeking to ease the burden of paying for college on working class families. A “last dollar” initiative, the program will cover all remaining tuition and fees for students taking six or more credits after any other federal or state grants are applied to their tuition bills.

Bergen students who have already completed a financial aid application for the fall 2018 semester will automatically receive consideration for the program. Students who have not yet filed for financial aid for the 2018-19 academic year will have until Feb. 15, 2019 to apply.

Affordability has remained a focus area for Bergen officials, as research indicates approximately 50 percent of all community college students believe financial issues could cause them to leave their institution, according to the Center for Community College Student Engagement.

In addition to keeping tuition rates low, and limiting annual increases to less than two percent, the College has also developed initiatives that target the often-hidden challenges students encounter. Among them, Bergen partnered with the Center for Food Action to open a pantry for students battling hunger and opened a “career closet” to provide clothing for students going on interviews for internships or jobs.

Bergen also offers numerous support services to help students remain enrolled and on a path for graduation, including the Cerullo Learning Assistance Center, which has twice earned honors as the top tutoring center in the country.

No. 1 in New Jersey for associate degree graduates, Bergen offers programs in fields such as aviation, business administration, culinary arts, fashion design and nursing. Alumni have transferred to institutions such as Yale, the New Jersey Institute of Technology and the University of California, Berkeley. The College maintains campus locations in Paramus (main), Hackensack (Philip Ciarco Jr. Learning Center) and Lyndhurst (Bergen Community College at the Meadowlands) while also offering online classes. Its main campus features facilities such as the Health Professions Integrated Teaching Center, the Emil Buehler Trust Observatory and Stryker Manufacturing Lab, which provide students with hands-on, practice-based learning opportunities. Day and evening classes take place throughout the week – including a “weekend college” program.

Based in Paramus, Bergen Community College (, a public two-year coeducational college, enrolls more than 14,000 students at locations in Paramus, the Philip Ciarco Jr. Learning Center in Hackensack and Bergen Community College at the Meadowlands in Lyndhurst. The College offers associate degree, certificate and continuing education programs in a variety of fields. More students graduate from Bergen than any other community college in the state.

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