Merit scholarship disenfranchises too many NJ students
As I study for exams, I occasionally reminisce on my pre-undergraduate days. The term “academic neglect” comes to mind. I remember coasting through summer school to make it into high school. I remember my high school overcrowding lower-level classes with my minority friends, yet claiming there was no space in honors and Advanced Placement classes, although I saw half the seats vacant. I accredit a few teachers for my acceptance to Rutgers. You see, a college career was never a prospect that crossed my mind. My single mother was undocumented working two, at times three, jobs to provide for me. I figured I would enter the work force and call it a lifestyle. I was another failing student in a failing high school. However, I don’t completely blame myself.
Marginalized students like myself are repeatedly conditioned to believe there is no chance for them. So why bother? I’ll tell you why: because I can. Had it not been for the teachers that capitalized on my potential, my academic career would have ended after grabbing my high school diploma.
What my teachers did for me in high school is what the Educational Opportunity Fund program at Rutgers did for me. The state-funded EOF program was created roughly 46 years ago to provide low-income, first-generation students with the potential to attend college. These students come from some of the worst high schools and urban communities, such as Trenton, Camden and Newark. In its prime, the program provided full financial need-based aid packages all four years of college. EOF students may not be the “best and brightest” when we enter college — but ask us what we’ve accomplished when we graduate and you’ll be amazed, possibly even envious. Unfortunately, the EOF program has seen cuts to its funding.
So, it’s tragic that Rutgers is looking to make its admissions more exclusive. University President Robert L. Barchi excuses himself by providing the new Henry Rutgers Merit Scholarship to stop the brain drain and keep the best and brightest in the state. This gradually closes the door of opportunity that a state school should be able to provide. Merit-based aid does nothing for students who come from failing high schools because the resources were never there to become the “best and brightest” to begin with. As of 2013, New Jersey ranks 31st in the country for higher education funding per capita. Rutgers is currently receiving only about 21 percent of state appropriations, meaning less Rutgers aid grants for low-income students. We can hardly call ourselves a state school anymore.
If students are looking to attend college outside of New Jersey, it is likely that they can afford out-of-state tuition rates. So why are we paying these students to stay? Let’s keep in mind that New Jersey is the most densely populated state in the country, so of course a high brain drain rate can seem alarming. But if you want to leave the state, great — don’t let the door hit you on the way out. There are plenty in-state students who would appreciate a seat in a Rutgers classroom. Rutgers should remain accessible to all students. Rutgers should focus on reclaiming the state funding it deserves to serve students who would benefit most from an education’s promise of socioeconomic mobility. Rutgers should build its reputation by performing on its academics and fulfilling this promise better than any other institution in the state, or even the country. A good institution can teach anybody and make everybody successful, not just the selective few who have already had everything handed to them. Let’s focus on keeping students who want to stay in New Jersey.
Bryan Miranda is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in public policy with minors in education and English. He is an organizing director for the Educational Opportunity Program Student Association.