Acting Gov. Sheila Oliver on Tuesday announced forward movement on the state’s free community college program, one of Gov. Phil Murphy’s major policy platforms.
“I’m very excited that the Secretary of Higher Education and HESAA are moving forward to make higher education more accessible and affordable for New Jersey families,” Oliver said in a statement. “Having the opportunity to obtain a college degree was an instrumental part of my life, and in today’s job market, it’s a matter of fairness and equality. Making higher education attainable will help secure a successful future for our students and strengthen New Jersey’s workforce and economy.”
The program will provide up to $20 million in grants for some students with an adjusted gross income of less than $45,000.
The announcement of forward movement on one of the policies Murphy spent years campaigning on comes as the governor is vacationing with his family in an undisclosed location.
While the advancement comes under his administration, the governor himself is not quoted in the release, potentially depriving him of an opportunity for favorable coverage on a popular issue.
The governor’s office said that the timing of the announcement was coincidental.
“We wanted to get it out as soon as possible,” a Murphy official said. “It was ready to go, so we’re utilizing the acting governor.”
While this stage of the program comes with an Aug. 31 deadline for community colleges seeking the grants, the timing of the announcement is still a little surprising, said Rowan political science professor Ben Dworkin.
“It is clearly a major priority for the governor and his administration, something he has been talking about for several years on the campaign trail and since he was inaugurated,” Dworkin said. “So, he would have certainly wanted to be here and make this announcement himself and talk about his passion for this issue himself.”
Should the administration have chosen to hold the announcement until Murphy returned from vacation, the news wouldn’t have come out until more than a week from today, on Aug. 8.
While that would have denied schools some times to fill out the requisite applications, it would’ve allowed Murphy to speak more directly on the issue, possibly at a press even of some kind.
Still, this likely isn’t the last announcement Murphy’s administration will make on the free community college program, so whatever opportunity cost the governor swallowed today could be repaid in the future.
“He’ll certainly have other opportunities,” Dworkin said. “This is just the first announcement of it, and it’s a bit of a missed opportunity, but I don’t think it’s going to cost anybody anything.”