Administrators explain cuts to EOF
More than 2,600 students across the three Rutgers University campuses could be affected by proposed cuts to New Jersey’s Educational Opportunity Fund.
On Feb. 16, Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) announced his administration’s state budget proposal for the 2017 fiscal year. Included in the governor’s budget summary is a suggested $2.57 million reduction to the funding of “EOF grants and scholarships” state-wide.
Since its establishment in 1968, the New Jersey Educational Opportunity Fund has offered financial support and academic services to economically disadvantaged students who attend institutions of higher education – both public and private – in the state.
“We would still have a commitment to those students (in the program), but depending on how the cuts come, potentially it might mean that the number of students that could receive the EOF grants would be impacted,” said Michelle Shostack, assistant dean and director of the School of Arts and Sciences EOF program.
At Rutgers, there are various EOF programs, including ones in the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, Rutgers—Camden and Rutgers—Newark. The largest program — boasting about 1,300 students — is in the School of Arts and Sciences, which serves undergraduates from other schools in the University, Shostack said.
Two sets of criteria — by the state and the respective school — are used to judge eligibility for the program.
In New Jersey, students must demonstrate a financially disadvantaged background based on family household size and income. Those looking to be part of a Rutgers EOF program are also required to be first-generation college students, according to Undergraduate Admissions.
There is a common misconception that students in the EOF program are given a full-ride. In reality, students at Rutgers are provided with a semesterly grant of $700 if they reside on campus or $575 if they commute, Shostack said.
“These students are also taking out loans … and they have federal work-study jobs,” she said.
For Katherine Garcia, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore, the financial assistance she receives from the EOF program is indispensable. Her single mother has three other children and would be unable to pay the high costs of her college tuition alone.
“Honestly, if there are cuts to the program, I wouldn’t be able to return,” she said
Garcia is especially grateful for the five-week academic session that the EOF program hosts for incoming first-year students every summer. She said the introductory classes she took after graduating high school helped her transition and adapt to the college environment.
The state-wide EOF program is participating in an advocacy campaign this semester, Shostack said. By writing letters and making phone calls, they hope to urge members of the New Jersey legislature to resist the governor’s proposed cuts.
Wally Torian, director of admissions and recruitment for the School of Arts and Sciences EOF program, emphasized that the initiative is more than simply an avenue for economic relief. Supportive academic counseling is another essential part of program, he said.
“Each student has a designated counselor,” Torian said. “They serve as mentors and role models for a number of students who don’t have the support systems at home.”
It is this guidance and support that has facilitated Eric Cajuste’s academic journey in his three years at Rutgers.
“The EOF program has kept me well-rounded,” the School of Arts and Sciences junior said. “It has given me a good sense of direction because ever since I started, I’ve always had a counselor to look after me and keep me on track.”
Cajuste would advise state legislators not to proceed with the proposed reduction of funds because he is certain that it would only hurt students who are “less fortunate and who come from communities that don’t have the best resources.”
“I don’t know if I would have been able to attend Rutgers if it wasn’t for this program, and to know that other students would miss out if they have to cut back just makes it hard to imagine where those students would go," he said.
University President Robert L. Barchi said school administrators are lobbying the state legislature to ensure the funds are a part of the final budget that is passed.
"There is an annual game of ping pong that goes between the Senate and the Assembly and they put the money in, and when it comes to the governor, he takes it out and then eventually it goes back in," he said.
Senior Vice President for External Affairs Peter McDonough said the different campus chancellors have arranged for students to attend the public hearings held by the state legislature on the budget.
He said Barchi would testify in front of the budget committee on Thursday to lobby for the funding.
"(The EOF program) is one of our highest priorities so we would do whatever we needed to do to make sure that students who would normally have to avail themselves of those funds would not be denied access to Rutgers," Barchi said.
Camilo Montoya-Galvez is a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student majoring in Spanish and journalism and media studies. He is a correspondent for The Daily Targum. Follow him on Twitter @camiloooom.