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Nineteen Hudson County Community College nursing students recently earned degrees as part of the inaugural class of New Jersey’s “Pay It Forward” program, which provides zero-interest loans to eligible students training for careers in high-demand fields such as healthcare, IT and clean energy.

Hudson County Community College (HCCC) is the first higher education institution in New Jersey to participate in the healthcare cohort of the Pay It Forward initiative, a $12.5 million workforce development program launched last year by the Murphy administration, the New Jersey CEO Council and Social Finance, a national impact finance and advisory nonprofit.

The program aims to help participants find jobs while also helping employers fill in-demand positions in high-growth sectors of New Jersey’s economy. The zero-interest loans enabled participants to enroll in credential, certificate, and degree programs at one of three inaugural training providers: nursing at Hudson County Community College; cybersecurity at New Jersey Institute of Technology; and Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) and welding at Camden County College.

In addition to zero-interest loans, students also received non-repayable living stipends, access to emergency aid and wraparound support, such as mental health services. 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 education and training for future students.

More than 100 students from around the state were selected as the initial Pay It Forward participants. HCCC students in the healthcare cohort who earned an Associate of Science Nursing Degree celebrated with a toast and a pinning ceremony at the HCCC Culinary Conference Center on June 15.

Helping to commemorate the occasion were 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 at NJEDA; Dr. Christopher Reber, HCCC president; Dr. Darryl Jones, HCCC vice president for Academic Affairs; Dr. Heather DeVries, HCCC dean of Academic Affairs and Assessment; Dr. Catherine Sirangelo, HCCC dean of Nursing and Health Sciences; Dr. Lori Byrd, interim director, HCCC Nursing Program; and representatives from the NJ CEO Council and Social Finance, the nonprofit managing the program.

“The New Jersey Pay It Forward stipend and emergency funds helped me focus on my classes and worry less,” said Eunice Rivera, a graduate of the program who accepted an offer to become an intensive care unit nurse at a nearby hospital. “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.”

Dr. Reber, the HCCC president, said the college was incredibly proud of its first Pay It Forward program nursing graduates.

“A college degree is the great equalizer on the path to a sustainable career and enjoyable life,” Reber said.  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.”