New Jersey is on track to award financial aid to more college undergrads than ever before, including millions to "dreamers," students who were brought to the country illegally as children.

State financial aid data from the fall 2019 semester shows 85,172 students will receive state financial aid this academic year, representing more than a 12% increase over last academic year, according to the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority (HESAA).

Among eligible students, 1,044 New Jersey "dreamers" received a collective total of $3.37 million in state financial aid in the first term of the academic year, the HESAA announced.

That's more than double the fall 2018 semester, when 513 "New Jersey Dreamers" received $1.6 million in state financial aid.

Under a law signed by Gov. Phil Murphy in May 2018, eligible New Jersey Dreamers can apply for need-based, state-funded financial aid.

To qualify, students met all income requirements, scholastic achievement criteria, and deadlines for state aid, in addition to the following extra requirements:
- they attended a New Jersey high school for at least three years
- they graduated from a New Jersey high school or received the equivalent of an NJ high school diploma
- male students registered for Selective Service
- they filed an affidavit stating that they applied to legalize their immigration status, or will file an application as soon as eligible to do so.

HESAA Executive Director David Socolow said that such investment in students is "crucial to building NJ’s economy" through a talented workforce for the state.

The largest amount of aid was distributed in fall 2019 through the state’s Tuition Aid Grant program, as $226 million went to nearly 71,000 students. Another $4.5 million in part-time TAG awards went to more than 6,000 part-time students at county colleges.

Socolow said the Tuition Aid Grant program is a significant support to college students, as almost one-third of all full-time undergraduates in NJ are receiving some aid through TAG. The program helps pay for college tuition at a NJ institution, based on family need.

He said one of the major roadblocks that stops students from finishing college is, unsurprisingly, affordability.

Another $9.7 million was distributed to more than 7,600 students as tuition-free Community College Opportunity Grants, according to the HESAA report.

The CCOG program is in its first full academic year at all 18 county colleges across New Jersey, after being launched as a pilot program in the spring 2019 semester. Students from families with adjusted gross incomes between zero to $65,000 are eligible to receive CCOG scholarships, filling in any gaps remaining after other grants and scholarships, to cover tuition and approved educational fees.

According to the HESAA report, early data appears to show that program is assisting eligible community college students with attempting more credits per semester, thus reducing their time to degree completion and increasing their chances of success.

"By helping with tuition, we can get more students to the finish line, more to the graduation stage, and ultimately boost the strength of the New Jersey economy," Socolow said.

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