Governor, Higher Ed Secretary Reveal NJ Strategic Plan at Rutgers University-Newark

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l-r.Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, New Jersey Secretary of Higher Education Zakiya Smith Ellis, Rutgers-Newark senior John-Anthony Arroyo, and Rutgers University President Robert Barchi

Newark, New Jersey, March 27, 2019—New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy and Secretary of Higher Education Zakiya Smith Ellis chose Rutgers University–Newark as the site to announce their ambitious statewide plan for higher education today, describing it as the first in the nation to be founded upon a “Student Bill of Rights.”

Joining Murphy and Smith Ellis for the announcement were Rutgers University President Robert L. Barchi, Rutgers-Newark senior John-Anthony Arroyo, and Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo and a crowd of some 250 college students, faculty and staff members, higher education and civic leaders, and community members gathered in the Great Hall of 15 Washington Street.

As outlined by Murphy and Smith Ellis, the plan, titled, “Where Opportunity Meets Innovation,” emphasizes access, affordability, and opportunity for the state’s increasingly diverse generations of students. Aiming to strengthen pathways to and through college, it posits student rights to early exposure to college, clear and comprehensive financial information, affordable and predictable education costs, experiential learning opportunities, supporting faculty and staff, support for on-time college completion, opportunities to earn college credit outside the classroom, high-quality academic programs, safe, supportive, and inclusive campuses, and a voice in decisions that affect their education.

Regarding efforts to contain college costs and communicate clearly to students what they are, Smith Ellis said, “Research shows that those that make a clear commitment, not just how much aid [students] will get, but actually to the bottom line of how much you are going to pay are the ones that are the most effective.” Offering examples of such efforts, she continued, “That’s why we want to work together with our colleges to have more of what Nancy Cantor is doing at Rutgers-Newark,” citing the RU-N Talent & Opportunity Pathway (RU-N to the TOP) program introduced by Chancellor Cantor in 2015, which “makes a clear commitment to students about what they will pay.”

The rationale for the plan’s prevailing focus on the student experience was nowhere clearer than in the remarks made by Arroyo, who spellbound the audience with the story of how he found his path to higher education. He spoke compellingly of the challenges of growing up in a single-parent household of modest means in Paterson, New Jersey, where quite different paths including gang membership were all too present. After struggling academically and feeling “lost” in his middle and early high school years, Arroyo was inspired to apply himself and aim for college by a guidance counselor who expressed confidence in him and told him about New Jersey’s Educational Opportunity Fund, which provides financial assistance and support services to students from educationally and economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

Today, Arroyo is not only a mentor in that program and honors students at Rutgers-Newark, but poised to graduate from Rutgers Business School with a dual major in accounting and finance. He aspires to be a financial advisor and provide personal finance services to the Latino community. Lauding Murphy and Smith Ellis for their higher education plan, he said, “Without efforts like this to promote higher education and make it more available to everyone, students like myself would be stranded and unsure of where they want to go in life.”

To implement New Jersey’s higher education plan, Murphy is tasking working groups to develop strategies to increase college completion, focused on “On Ramps to College,” “Making College Affordable,” “Student Success,” “Safe and Inclusive Learning Environment,” and “Research, Innovation, and Talent.” Cantor will co-chair the “Making College Affordable” working group with Rowan University President Ali Houshmand. Rutgers-Newark’s Reginald Lewis, Executive Director of the Newark City of Learning Collaborative, will co-chair the “Student Success” working group with Stockton University President Harvey Kesselman.

A complete replay of the announcement is available on Governor Murphy's YouTube channel.

A complete copy of Rutgers University – Newark’s strategic plan, “Where Opportunity Meets Excellence,” may be found here.