In the summer leading up to her freshman year of college, Karla Farfan Miguel worked two jobs to secure finances for the fall.

And during her first semester at Montclair State University, the Lakewood resident continued working so that she had enough money to attend again in the spring.

"And that's the way I've been working at it since I've been here," said Miguel, a first-generation college student.

Hoboken resident Elizabeth Moyeno said many of her peers are scared to even apply for college, not because they don't think they deserve education beyond high school, but because it doesn't seem remotely affordable.

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"It shouldn't feel like a privilege. It should feel like everyone deserves that opportunity," the MSU student said of earning a bachelor's degree.

Farfan and Moyeno made their comments during a roundtable on college affordability in the Garden State, run by New Jersey Secretary of Higher Education Brian Bridges and MSU President Susan Cole.

"The state and this nation can only be strong and prosperous if our rising generations of young people have access to higher education without respect to the circumstances in which they were born," Cole said to begin the event.

The roundtable featured a handful of students who, if they were still in high school, may have been able to take advantage of a plan in New Jersey that would provide eligible students with two years tuition-free at the state's four-year colleges and universities.

Part of Gov. Phil Murphy's spending plan for the next fiscal year, the Garden State Guarantee would be open to students whose families bring in $65,000 or less in income annually.

Murphy's proposed budget includes $45 million to start the program, with another $5 million available if necessary.

The initiative follows a Community College Grant Opportunity Grant program, already underway, that offers students two tuition- and fee-free years of county college. The program features the same $65,000 income threshold.

Combined, the two programs would essentially allow a student to achieve a bachelor's degree at no charge — two years at a community college, and the next two at a public institution.

"Through a series of similar college affordability discussions this spring, one major theme occurred — the cost of attending college must not be a barrier preventing talented students from turning their dreams into realities," Secretary Bridges said during the roundtable.

Bridges said investments such as the Garden State Guarantee will expand opportunities to "families who would not have the chance to attend college otherwise, many of whom are students of color, low-income families and those from disadvantaged backgrounds."

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