NJCCC: New Partnership Supports New Jersey Community Colleges to Meet Students’ Basic Needs

Originally published by the New Jersey Council of County Colleges on May 2, 2024.

HAMILTON, N.J., May 2, 2024 – The New Jersey Council of County Colleges (NJCCC), on behalf of New Jersey’s 18 community colleges, has partnered with the nonprofit Benefits Data Trust to support the Community to Opportunity: Building Community to Expand Opportunity initiative funded by The Tepper Foundation. Community to Opportunity is a statewide initiative to strengthen and support New Jersey community colleges to build and sustain strategies to help students meet basic needs.  

“New Jersey’s community colleges play an essential role in expanding educational and economic opportunity across our state. However, too many students are in need of assistance in meeting their basic needs, making it harder for them to focus on their studies and complete their degrees and credentials,” NJCCC President Aaron R. Fichtner, Ph.D., said. “With the support of The Tepper Foundation, Community to Opportunity is serving as a statewide learning community, allowing our participating community colleges to pilot innovative ideas and strengthen partnerships with state and local government, local and statewide non-profits, community- and faith-based organizations, and others to create long-term, sustainable solutions to meet the basic needs challenges community college students face.” 

“We want students to be able to focus on school, not outside stressors,” said Randi Tepper, CEO of The Tepper Foundation. “Community colleges across New Jersey understand the many barriers students face outside of the classroom and are committed to finding innovative ways to eliminate them. We are excited to be partnering with New Jersey Council of County Colleges and Benefits Data Trust to make sure more students’ basic needs are met.” 

Camden County College, Essex County College, Hudson County Community College, Ocean County College, Rowan College at Burlington County, and Sussex County Community College are serving as leader colleges in the Community to Opportunity initiative to develop strategies to scale their efforts to support students’ basic needs security.  

“Camden County College recognizes the importance of ensuring that we remove all barriers to student success,” said Dr. Lovell Pugh-Bassett, President of Camden County College. “Support from the Tepper Foundation will allow us to better serve our diverse student population, and help them address the complex range of challenges standing between them and their educational goals.” 

Benefits Data Trust (BDT), a national nonprofit working to modernize access to government assistance, was selected by NJCCC to train college administrators and staff in how to use the data that schools already hold to identify and inform their students who may be eligible for untapped public benefits that can help them stay in college and graduate. Federal benefit programs can help students pay for food and healthcare, alleviating some of the financial pressure of being a student.  

Nearly 1 in 4 undergraduate students face food insecurity, a rate higher than that of people not in school. Federal benefit programs can help students cover these expenses, yet they remain underutilized. Nationally, nearly 2 million students who are eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) do not participate, leaving an estimated $3 billion in benefits unused. College students may also be eligible for programs such as Medicaid, the Child Tax Credit, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).   

“Through our work with colleges and from research we’ve conducted with community college partners, we know that lack of awareness about these programs and uncertainty about whether college students are eligible are two major reasons why students don’t apply to SNAP,” said Stephanie Baker, senior manager of higher education at Benefits Data Trust. “We’re here to help colleges find eligible students and tell them: ‘You can qualify for these programs that help you support yourself and your family while you pursue your educational goals.’” 

BDT will guide the participating community colleges as they launch outreach about benefit programs to students this year and support the colleges to refine their process and future outreach plans. BDT will participate in NJCCC's Holistic Student Supports Convening on Thursday, June 13, part of the three-day New Jersey Community College Opportunity Summit in Atlantic City, to share information with attendees from all 18 community colleges in the state. For more information about the New Jersey Community College Opportunity Summit, please visit: https://www.njcommunitycolleges.org/nj-community-college-opportunity-summit-2024/

BDT will also provide a final report on learnings and recommendations for expanding benefits outreach work across all of the state’s community colleges as part of ongoing statewide efforts to support students basic needs and degree completion. 

Learn more in BDT’s toolkit designed to help higher education institutions use data to inform outreach to students who are likely eligible for benefit programs.   

About Benefits Data Trust   

Benefits Data Trust (BDT) improves health and financial security by harnessing the power of data, technology, and policy to provide dignified and equitable access to assistance. Together with a national network of government agencies and partners, we efficiently connect people today to programs that pay for food, healthcare, and more while helping to modernize benefits access for tomorrow. A nonprofit since 2005, BDT has secured more than $10 billion in benefits for households across the country, helping to reduce hunger and poverty and build pathways to economic mobility. Learn more at bdtrust.org

About The Tepper Foundation 

The Tepper Foundation is a family foundation that supports effective organizations in New Jersey and across the United States. Through these grantee partnerships, the foundation works to meet people’s basic needs like food and housing; provide relief in the face of disasters; support the Jewish community; safeguard rights; and strengthen the nonprofit sector. Founded in 1996 by David Tepper, the foundation has supported grantees with hundreds of millions of dollars in direct support since its inception and continues to expand its giving. Learn more at www.tepperfoundation.org 

About New Jersey Council of County Colleges 

Governed by the presidents and trustees of the state’s 18 Community Colleges and enshrined in state law, the New Jersey Council of County Colleges (NJCCC) supports New Jersey’s Community Colleges and the more than 230,000 students they serve annually across 49 locations by fostering collaboration and developing solutions that expand access to college, promote equity and student success, and create a skilled workforce to drive economic growth. 

NJCCC brings together the state’s Community Colleges to build a world-class, flexible higher education and workforce development system that can respond to the needs of local communities and employers while having statewide reach and impact. NJCCC promotes innovation and policy changes to help New Jersey’s Community Colleges in their efforts to achieve academic, social, and economic mobility for all residents. The Council’s New Jersey Community College Consortium for Workforce and Economic Development builds statewide industry, education, and labor partnerships that align education and training with the needs of a changing economy. 

To learn more about NJCCC and New Jersey’s Community Colleges, go to www.njcommunitycolleges.org. Follow us via @NJCommColleges on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube to learn more about our latest programs and initiatives.