HCCC graduates first 19 in nursing ‘Pay it Forward’ program

Graduates of the inaugural Pay It Forward Associate of Science in Nursing Degree program at Hudson County Community College (HCCC) during their ‘toast.’

Nursing is one of the most in-demand careers in the United States, but obtaining a college degree in this field can be cost-prohibitive for many students. To close equity gaps in higher education and to support economic growth, Gov. Philip D. Murphy partnered with the NJ CEO Council and Social Finance to launch the New Jersey Pay It Forward Program in 2022.

The first-of-its-kind in the United States, the $12.5 million program prepares students for careers in growth-fueled industries such as health care, green energy and information technology (IT). New Jersey Pay It Forward was designed to help participants enroll in and graduate from high-quality academic and training programs and provides zero-interest, no-fee loans, non-repayable living stipends, access to emergency aid funds and supportive services like mental health counseling for students.

After completing one of the eligible academic or training programs, participants who earn above a minimum salary, such as $49,290 for a family of three, repay their loans, and those funds are then recycled to finance future students.

Hudson County Community College is the first institution of higher education in New Jersey selected to participate in the health care segment of the program. The HCCC associate of science in nursing degree program was chosen for its proven, high-quality training and track record of strong employment outcomes, employer relationships, and experience serving diverse learners.

Nineteen HCCC Nursing students were among 100-plus in the state selected as initial program participants. On Thursday, June 15, the local students graduated from the college’s nursing program and were celebrated with a toast and a pinning ceremony at the HCCC Culinary Conference Center.

Those who helped commemorate the occasion included David J. Socolow, executive director of the New Jersey Higher Education Student Assistance Authority (HESAA); Tara Colton, executive vice president for Economic Security at the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA); Emily Apple, director of economic security, New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA); Christopher Reber, HCCC president; Darryl Jones, HCCC vice president for academic affairs; Heather DeVries, HCCC dean of academic affairs and assessment; Catherine Sirangelo, HCCC dean of nursing and health sciences; Lori Byrd, interim director, HCCC Nursing Program; and representatives from the NJ CEO Council and Social Finance, the nonprofit designing and managing the program.

“The New Jersey Pay It Forward stipend and emergency funds helped me focus on my classes and worry less,” Eunice Rivera, a graduate of the program who accepted an offer to become an intensive care unit nurse at a nearby hospital, said. “The no-interest loan helps me stay in the here and now, instead of worrying too much about compounding interest that I would have to pay in the future.”

The governor, meanwhile, was elated with the first graduates of the program.

“I commend the students graduating today on their hard work and dedication in making it to this point,” Murphy said. “I look forward to seeing the first group of graduates from our Pay It Forward Program go on to succeed in their careers and help enable the success of future cohorts of eager students. I know great things are ahead for each and every one of these nursing students, who will significantly assist communities throughout our state by filling critical roles among New Jersey’s health care workforce.”

Reber was equally as excited as the governor.

“We are incredibly proud of our first Pay It Forward Program Nursing graduates,” Reber said. “A college degree is the great equalizer on the path to a sustainable career and enjoyable life. It provides the means to secure one’s family, and to help our community thrive. We are thankful to the State of New Jersey, Social Finance, and the NJ CEO Council for providing the resources to make students’ dreams realities, and for recognizing our nursing program as a vital component in helping students attain success.”

In addition to the Nursing Program at HCCC, New Jersey’s Pay It Forward Program serves HVAC and welding students at Camden County College and cybersecurity students at New Jersey Institute of Technology. It aims to add more training programs and to serve more students in the coming years.

Murphy has proposed an additional $2.5 million for the program in his 2024 budget proposal.

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Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.