Rutgers is keeping the 'American Dream' alive, according to New York Times index
The index took into account different features of economic diversity, including graduation rate, grants and accessibility
At Rutgers’ 250th commencement ceremony, former President Barack Obama said "America converges here," praising the University for its renowned diverse student body and faculty.
The New York Times recently released their annual College Access Index, which ranked Rutgers 31st out of the 171 universities in the United States that are “doing the most for the American Dream.” The University outscored all of its Big Ten competitors in this listing, which based its results on economic diversity and college accessibility.
The Index is a combination of a college’s Pell Grant recipients’ graduation rates and the net price they pay, compared to the average school. All of the schools ranked have a five-year graduation rate of at least 75 percent.
A Pell Grant is a subsidy provided by the federal government for financially weak undergraduate students allowing them to attend college without the burden of cost.
At Rutgers, about 30 percent of incoming first-year students receive these grants.
A college with an average score based on the aforementioned measures would receive a ranking of one on the College Access Index. Rutgers scored a 1.17, while the University of California—Irvine, at the top of the list, received a 1.9. The runner-up was the University of California—Santa Barbara, which scored a 1.6.
While Rutgers indeed fosters broad diversity on campus compared to other schools, there is still progress to be made.
Courtney McAnuff, vice president of Enrollment Management at the University, strives to maintain and improve upon Rutgers’ economic diversity and said that the University's high national standing on the Index is an indicator of Rutgers' commitment to diversify its student body and broaden access for anyone who deserves it.
The University sponsors and supports numerous pathway programs for low-income students, McAnuff said, which are based on economics rather than race. These include programs such as Rutgers Future Scholars, Women in Science, Upward Bound, the Educational Opportunity Fund and select Student Support Services.
In addition to Pell Grants, the University invests significant funds annually into Rutgers Assistance Grants (RAG) to assist in meeting needs of low-income students, he said.
“Economic diversity is a major focus for Rutgers. About 30 percent of our entering class receive Pell Grants. This program is available to students with very high need and is one of the largest Pell Grant programs in the AAU or Big Ten,” McAnuff said. “The New Brunswick retention rate is very high, with about 76 percent of the Pell Grant recipients graduating, significantly above the national average.”
McAnuff is a strong proponent of the importance of flagship public universities like Rutgers providing opportunities for its low-income students who have academic ability.
The investment made in these students is returned to the state several times over, he said. Students who attain a college degree use fewer state services such as public housing, medical care and corrections.
“(Rutgers’) tuition increases have been kept below 2 percent and the University has invested significantly in additional funding for need-based financial aid programs,” McAnuff said. “President (Robert L.) Barchi has made a major part of his strategic plan our mission to provide opportunities for all talented students in our state, no matter their economic circumstances.”
Jorge Reina Schement, vice chancellor of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, said that taking the best and the brightest students without necessarily examining their ability to pay is the University’s direct obligation to New Jersey.
In order to do that, Rutgers works harder than most other big state universities to make financial aid available, Schement said.
“From our perspective, what’s very important is that Rutgers be a gateway to educate the best and the brightest of New Jersey, whether they can pay or not,” he said. “What that does as an investment is it pays back the state sixfold in terms of the jobs (graduates) get, the ideas they come up with, the innovations they produce, all the things that make this a better place.”
Schement said that every year Rutgers, like many other universities, purchases data from firms that specialize in collecting information about prospective college students in order to be as selective as they can in recruiting the best and the brightest.
“We recruit, we don’t just open our doors. We try to produce a profile that will be the best profile for the state of New Jersey,” he said.
President Donald J. Trump administration’s recent 2018 budget proposal seeks to cut $9.2 billion from the Education Department’s budget. This means less money to spend on federal grant programs that have the ability to diversify schools economically like Rutgers.
Schement said that if Congress passes this proposal it could have serious implications on the progress made in terms of diversity in education.
“We rely heavily on federal support to provide financial aid to these students. If that is cut back it makes it virtually impossible for us to maintain the levels that we maintain," he said. "And in the end who suffers are all kinds of kids from New Jersey who would be getting some of that support, but now can’t get it."
Stephen Weiss is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in philosophy. He is an associate news editor for The Daily Targum.