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Rutgers, Newark, Housing Scholarships Enable Urban Students To Fully Experience College Life

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NEWARK, N.J., April 7

– “I think everyone should live on campus for at least one year,” says Iverri Johnson, a Rutgers University, Newark, senior who will graduate this spring. “You gain experience at becoming independent. You become more mature and focused.” Another senior, Jasmine Jackson, echoes his feelings: “Commuters miss out on a lot of social and academic functions held after classes, like lectures and gallery events. These are things that enriched my college experiences.”

However, the added expense of room and board, coupled with tuition, often deprives urban students, like Iverri and Jasmine, with limited financial means –many of whom are the first in their families to attend college — of the opportunity to live on campus and devote themselves to full-time study. But that wasn’t the case for Jasmine, Iverri, and some two dozen other Rutgers-Newark students, recipients of a housing scholarship awarded through a program pioneered at Rutgers-Newark, the MCJ Student Residential Housing Scholarship Program. This needs-based housing scholarship program is believed to be the only such program in the nation.

The MCJ Student Residential Housing Scholarship Program was established in 2008 as a five-year pilot program to make living on campus part of the college experience for Newark residents who participate in one of the campus’s Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) programs or the Rutgers-Newark READY Program. This scholarship is financed through the generosity of the MCJ Amelior Foundation, which was founded by Rutgers-Newark alumnus and philanthropist Raymond G. Chambers. (The campus’s EOF programs offer financial aid, supplemental instruction and support services for low-income New Jersey residents, while the READY program provides tuition and educational opportunity for students from Newark.)

As a result of the success of that program, and to continue Rutgers-Newark’s ability to help students beyond the pilot program, the University launched a similar program in 2008 as part of its Centennial celebration. The Centennial Housing Scholarship Program is funded by alumni donors. Participation in the Centennial program is open to any low-income Rutgers-Newark student from urban areas outside Newark.

Although the scholarships do not impose academic restrictions, recipients are expected to maintain satisfactory academic progress. Together, these two scholarships have provided more than $100,000 annually to needy Rutgers Newark students.

According to Rutgers data, more than 90 percent of students who are eligible for these scholarships will receive negligible or no family contribution toward their education. “Throughout its history, Rutgers-Newark has had a long tradition of educating those who want to use higher education to improve their lives, but don’t have the means to do so,” explains Marcia W. Brown, vice chancellor for student and community affairs at Rutgers-Newark. “These include first-generation college students who, like many of our housing scholarship recipients, will bring a special sense of determination to their college experience.”

Deborah Walker-McCall, associate dean of academic affairs and director of the Academic Foundations Center and its EOF program, says, “We have found that living on campus has resulted in more resiliency, motivation and greater confidence to obtain a degree for our students.” Dr. Valerie Smith Stephens, assistant dean, College of Nursing EOF program, agrees. ”Living on campus exposes them to a previously unknown layer of student life and the opportunity to pursue their studies in a way they could not have living at home.”

In fact, study after study shows that that residential students do better academically than commuters. Residential students also tend to complete college in less time than commuters, feel more connected to their college, and believe they have enjoyed a richer college experience than commuters.

The experiences of scholarship recipients reinforce those statements. “When you live on campus, you can use the library, computing labs and other facilities evenings and weekends, when it is more convenient,” Iverri states. “You spend less time commuting and more time studying, and I know I was able to focus more on my studies on campus than at home, where there are a lot of distractions and it can be hard to find a quiet study spot,” he says.

Jasmine cites another advantage: It was easier to connect with other students as part of a study group, or to discuss a class, while living on campus. “You also have more opportunities to participate in campus organizations, and more time to interact with faculty,” she notes. Like Iverri, she graduates in May, and both students lived on campus all four years, thanks to their housing scholarships.

Students who initially commuted to school, then received residential scholarships, say the change to living on campus has reaped academic benefits. After two semesters of commuting by bus with her two young children, Jovina Williams, who also graduates in May, is now living in family housing on campus. The time she used to spend commuting is now available for studies and research. “It’s easier to work my schedule around classes and the children,” she says, “and there are fewer distractions. I can focus more on academics.”

Notes Crystal Navarro, “Commuting is work without a paycheck. Waking up early, beating traffic, finding parking that never exists, is work and wastes valuable time. The burdens of commuting didn’t worsen my grades, but did make it impossible to do things like studying late with other classmates.” She adds, “I wouldn’t trade living on campus for that for as long as I’m a student. Living on campus has made resources like Dana Library more readily available, and freed up time for studying, working on projects and doing research.”

Vice Chancellor Brown notes that with Rutgers-Newark in its 13th year as the most diverse national university campus in the nation, students are living with and learning from people whose backgrounds and cultures are different from theirs. Iverri found that the residential experience nurtured his self-development. “For me, living on campus was the first time I got to have close interactions and relationships with people from other cultures.” His roommates in his freshman year, he points out, included an international student from China, two Chinese-American students and one Filipino-American student. “I don’t know if I would have had that opportunity otherwise. What’s more, says Iverri, living with older roommates helped him to “mature and quiet down.”

Jasmine and Iverri both plan to continue their educations, and Iverri already has decided that whatever school he attends, he hopes to experience graduate life as a residential student.

For more information about the Housing Scholarship programs, please contact Carla Capizzi, 973/353-5262, or email: capizzi@rutgers.edu.

Author: 
Carla Capizzi