Chancellor Nancy Cantor delivered the below remarks to the Rutgers University Senate on March 24.

Investing Strategically in Rutgers University-Newark as a Public Good

I want to focus today’s report on the ways in which Rutgers-Newark serves New Jersey and the world as a public good, strategically investing to promote social mobility, to produce high-impact scholarship and publicly-engaged curricula that address pressing challenges of our contemporary landscape, and to foster cross-sector collaborations and partnerships as an anchor institution committed to equitable growth in our home community of Newark, NJ, in ways that resonate far beyond.  

While this emphasis emanates directly from our 2014 strategic plan, it feels especially timely now, when repeated public opinion polls speak to growing public skepticism about the value of higher education relative to its costs and the disparate impact of education debt on BIPOC and low-income communities, at a time when the wealth gap is escalating with more families and whole communities feeling left to the side-lines of opportunity.  Indeed, even though report after report, including one published recently by the Heldrich Center on the Benefits of Education in New Jersey, speak to the ROI of higher education, Education Week just published data from a public opinion poll in which the majority of respondents said that college preparedness should not be a high priority for K-12 education.  Clearly, as Sameer Gadkaree noted, in a report from the Institute for College Access and Success on Race and Economic Mobility, this is a moment when we all need to “make sure we are delivering equitable value for students of different racial and economic backgrounds.”  

This is a time, as the national movement of anchor institutions, the Anchor Institution Task Force suggests, when universities, health systems, corporations, and cultural institutions can join forces with community-based organizations and public agencies to try to promote racial equity and equitable community growth.  And that is what I see the faculty, staff, and students of Rutgers-Newark doing, and I am glad to come today to tell a bit of that story.

Investing in Social Mobility: People 

    Starting, then, with our investments in social mobility, we have our eyes laser focused on cultivating more of the fastest growing talent pool, especially though by no means exclusively in our home city of Newark– a majority Black and Brown city where the college-going rate has traditionally never even scratched the surface of generations of talent, as our colleagues at the Cornwall Center and in our Newark City of Learning Collaborative, assiduously track – and in our home state of New Jersey -- one of the most diverse states in the country, yet also the home of the sixth most segregated public schools by race and class in the country, as the UCLA Civil Rights Project has documented and as our collaborators at the Coalition for Diverse and Inclusive Schools have brought legal action to remedy.  

Accordingly, we are investing in expansive pathways from K-12 to college, spearheaded by our Center for Pre-College Programs, currently reaching over 1,600 students locally and statewide with a variety of in-school, summer, and Saturday programs, including dual enrollment and summer camp opportunities on our campus.  Five pathway agreements are smoothing those pathways through on-campus recruiting and program alignment we have with NJCCs in Hudson, Union, Middlesex, Bergen, and Essex – agreements that we must double-down on as county colleges’ enrollment and our own transfer enrollment took a substantial hit in the pandemic.  For, as we have learned from our success in recruiting diverse students in STEM fields through the pathway built by our NFS-funded Bridges to Baccalaureate Program with NJ’s Hispanic-Serving County Colleges and our Bright Spot in Hispanic Education award-winning Garden State LSAMP Program, as well as our newer Bridges to Doctorate Program, content-area focused pathway programs are a signature feature of the Diversity Bonus within our reach in the innovation space.  

And speaking of innovation spaces dedicated to cultivating the diverse talent in our own backyards, our Honors Living Learning Community (HLLC) is a national model, where over 50% of the student-scholars come from Newark, 24% are transfers, 92% are students of color, 62% are Pell-eligible, and 49% are first-generation., All of them are avidly pursuing an 18-credit minor in social justice along with their school and college majors across campus.  HLLC has taught us so much about the rewards of looking expansively for talent, focusing on the contributions to excellence of the lived experiences of the next generation change-makers in our midst. That includes formerly-incarcerated HLLC scholars coming through the pathway established by our inspiring prison-education and re-entry program (NJSTEP), whose success underlines that when we invest in our talented neighbors, and hopefully contribute to a path to social mobility, they in turn contribute richly to the intellectual and social environment of our university and community.

Our expansive talent search centers the affordability and student debt challenge in our country and puts Rutgers-Newark (and all of Rutgers) out front with our RUN to the TOP last-in financial aid program, which we started in 2016 for residents of Newark with adjusted family incomes of $60,000 or less and any New Jersey county college associate degree transfers with similar family incomes.  We have now expanded it to keep college affordable for transfer students with family incomes up to $100,000 in line with the State’s Garden State Guarantee program.  Building on the additional coverage provided by the Garden State Guarantee (GSG), this past fall 2022 we expanded our RUN to the TOP coverage up to the $100,000 scale for a much wider range of full-time and now part-time first- and second year Newark/Greater Newark students, and also to include part-time transfer students not otherwise covered under the GSG.  Collectively, the much-expanded RUN to the TOP Program along with the Garden State Guarantee Program, should provide a strong boost to our talent search and our investments in creating social mobility locally and statewide. We already know that the original RUN to the TOP Program has helped us increase our undergraduate enrollment from Newark by 43% since its launch, and we expect to be able to go even further in expanding our reach in the coming years.    

Like many of our peer institutions, we experienced a drop in undergraduate enrollment during the pandemic years (from 9,319 in 2019 to 7,511 in 2022), especially in transfer students (from 1,217 in 2019 to 714 in 2022).   Yet, to put the pandemic-era downturn in some perspective, before the pandemic hit we had been on a very strong upward trend, and even now, our undergraduate enrollment has increased by 4.1% from 2013-2022, with increases in first generation students of 31.3%, Pell-Eligible students by 7.6%, Latinx students by 53%, and Black students by 13% in that period.  We have maintained our status as a federally-designated Hispanic-Serving, and Asian and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving and Minority-Serving Institution, and our national rankings on social mobility (#6 by Washington Monthly and #7 by US News & World Report).  Clearly there is work to do to push back on the pandemic-era downturns and especially, to re-energize our transfer population and to reach even more of those students with some credits but no degrees, which we are doing with a re-enrollment program that has brought 389 students to Rutgers-Newark over this last year who have some credits but no degree from our institution. We remain steadfast in our commitments to make it feasible, accessible, and affordable for the ever-more diverse talent pool to continue to come to learn and to contribute at Rutgers-Newark.

Investing in Social Mobility: Collaborative Teams and Spaces of Collaboration

    A key piece of our social mobility commitment plays out in the investments we make in collaborative teams and in spaces of collaboration both on campus and in our community.  Our CARE team embedded in the Division of Student Affairs exemplifies this, including not only counseling and student health services and residence life professionals but those from academic advising, academic technology, and financial aid.  Similarly, our team from the Career Development Center works with the non-profit organization Braven, dedicated to promoting career success for low-income and first-generation students and students of color, and we can point proudly to the jobs data, for example, amongst the 212 Braven Fellows who graduated from Rutgers-Newark in 2022, 64% achieved strong jobs within six months of graduation, compared to 47% of graduates of color nationally from four-year public institutions. 

Central to many of our collaborative investments in social mobility are spaces and places for interaction and support, from our new Admissions/Welcome Center in a public building on Washington Street to our too-be-constructed one-stop student enrollment services center in Conklin Hall.  We have also intentionally expanded our footprint downtown, as in the new home of HLLC at 48 New Street, where not only can budding student entrepreneurs in the Prudential Scholars Program collaborate with Newark’s local entrepreneurs in Professor Ted Baker’s Urban Solutions Lab, but where professionals from the global fintech company, FISERV, can interact with our community, including the newly inaugurated FISERV Student Scholars, in the soon-to-come FISERV/RU-N Innovation Lab.  And these are just some of the teams and spaces in which new directions are being carved out for and with our next generation change-makers, our students.

Investing in High-Impact Scholarship and Curricula: People

And speaking of change-makers, our remarkably diverse faculty is creating curricula and scholarship speaking to the lived experiences and systemic challenges of today’s fast-urbanizing and diversifying world. We are seeing new faces of scholars across our campus, recruited, for example, in collaboration with the Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs’ Accelerated Recruitment Program in Rutgers Business School (RBS), the School of Public Affairs and Administration, Law, Criminal Justice, and the School of Arts and Sciences-Newark (SASN) , and the Cluster Hiring Program, most recently with SASN’s Latinx Faculty Cluster spanning departments of political science, sociology, and social work, and the Presidential Post-Doctoral program with new scholars joining the Center for Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience, Psychology, English, Social Work, and Public Administration.  The benefits of expansive faculty recruitment are quickly being felt in new programs and curricula being offered, such as the complete revamping of our Urban Education Department by Professor Lynette Mawhinney and her colleagues to prepare future teachers for the more diverse and inclusive classrooms they will have the opportunity to embrace and lead, including a new undergraduate degree program in Bilingual and ESL Education, the first in the State of NJ.

Investing in High-Impact Scholarship and Curricula:  Seeding Collaborations and Collaborative Spaces

 A range of publicly-engaged scholars and scholarship at Rutgers-Newark is energizing wonderful new collaborations that cross fields and communities, exemplified by the new collaboration between our Lives in Translation Program and the Design Consortium at Express Newark, creating an audiovisual exhibit on multilingualism, translation, and immigration titled A Feeling of Itself.  Similarly, the interdisciplinary scholars, Belinda Edmondson, Kornel Chang, Sean Mitchel and Bernie Lombardi, have gathered a wide array of public scholars and citizen-leaders in their year-long Sawyer Seminar Series, supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, on Natives and Nativists, Migrants and Immigrants in an American City.  Meanwhile the Price Institute’s 43rd Marion Thompson Wright Lecture on Beans, Greens, Tomatoes: Food and Justice in the Black Diaspora, assembled a remarkable collection of Black food justice scholars from around the nation in concert with activists from Newark’s community farming movement, many of whom our faculty and staff collaborate with in changing the local food apartheid landscape.  Ashaki Rouff, a faculty member in our Earth and Environmental Sciences Department, is making a substantial impact on the health and well-being of community farming in Newark, as well, by studying and working to remediate toxic soil and innovate environmental protections with input from the Urban Agriculture Cooperative, the non-profit, Newark Science and Sustainability, Inc, and the Greater Newark Conservancy.

Seeding these kinds of broad, publicly-engaged collaborations that reflect the lived experiences of our diverse populace is a signature feature of the intellectual and activist landscape at Rutgers-Newark, including the recent State of New Jersey investment to help support our new Center on Politics and Race in America, and the awarding of 23 new Chancellor’s Seed Grants, covering a wide range of projects from a meditation garden to increasing access to criminal expungement in New Jersey to Clemente Courses for Veterans in Newark to a women in technology/STEM initiative, a jazz and empathy project, and a project studying health-threatening pollutants through our air quality observatory, to name only a few of the new initiatives on campus and in and with our community.  And speaking of collaborations that cross spaces, disciplines, generations, and communities, internationally-acclaimed artist-in-residence at Express Newark, Willie Cole, has worked with our students and artists from Newark to interrogate Perceptual Engineering by creating sculptures such as a chandelier made of used plastic water bottles to remind us of the environmental peril for which we are all responsible.  Moreover, as our scholars, students, and community partners integrate such expansive renditions of our perilous world into their pedagogy and writings, the newly renovated space in Dana Library, which includes our P3 Collaboratory, becomes a true anchor for this creative reimagining, as their upcoming conference, Anchoring Higher Education, suggests.

Investing in Anchor Institution Collaboration: Publicly-Engaged Scholars and Community Partners

 Moving now, from anchoring higher education itself to how our colleges and universities can serve as anchor institutions in and of and with our home communities, I turn to the vast talent and effort being put to use for the public good at Rutgers-Newark and in Newark with a highly diverse and inter-generational set of partners, across the public, non-profit, corporate, and cultural sectors.  Not surprisingly, the publicly-engaged scholars who lead this work at Rutgers-Newark also span our entire campus community from civil rights lawyers to education experts to artists and writers and public humanists to supply chain specialists and entrepreneurs to environmental scientists to leaders in criminal justice and public administration. Most importantly, their scholarship feeds into collaborations with a wide variety of community partners with whom they co-create interventions to drive positive change.  

 A hugely promising example is the Newark Public Safety Collaborative, organized by Joel Caplan, Les Kennedy, and Alex Santana, scholars in our School of Criminal Justice, to pioneer what they call a model of data-informed community engagement (DICE) in the public safety arena.  Using risk-terrain modelling – a technique that asks and identifies where and why crime is occurring in certain places, such as vacant lots or darkly lit spots, rather than focusing on who is doing the crime – they collaborate with a quite large group of community partners in Newark, from law enforcement to neighborhood groups to social service agencies to corporations, in regular group meetings that produce community-led interventions.  They engage not only City Hall but the citizens of Newark directly, collaborating to reduce auto thefts, to ensure safe walks to school, to install LED lights, to prevent robberies at ATMs, and most recently to protect victims of domestic violence.  Their work is so successful now, and so collaboratively endorsed, that the Department of Justice has just awarded them a substantial grant that will empower three neighborhood organizations working with them to “democratize the use of data” in reducing crime and enhancing public safety.

In keeping with the commitment to democratize and spread access to knowledge and data, our Senior Vice Chancellor Amber Randolph has just successfully coordinated a substantial grant on digital equity from the Department of Commerce, under their “Connecting Minority Communities” Program, that will not only expand free wireless and increase broadband speeds at over 20 locations on our campus, but will enhance digital access and technology for justice-impacted residents in community release programs in collaboration with our NJSTEP program and the NJ Department of Corrections.  Moreover, the grant will partner with a Newark-based company, Teknogrid, to prepare community members for digital economy jobs, as well as serve as a backbone for a Newark Connected Community Citizen Academy and for a city-wide effort to map the gaps in broadband access and affordability, in partnership with the Newark Alliance.  

And following this same model of using data to inform collaborative, cross-sector opportunities to spur equitable growth and workforce opportunities in Newark, RBS faculty-member Kevin Lyons, whose Center on Local Supply Chain Resiliency was recently given funding from the State, is literally mapping all of the available businesses in Newark, matching them against a map of the large anchors’ procurement needs, and working to fill the gaps by building capacity amongst Newark’s diverse supplier community.  Moreover, Lyons then works with the 18 members of the Newark Anchor Collaborative, including the universities, hospitals, major corporations, and cultural institutions in the city, to enhance our local buying, enabling those same diverse suppliers to hire more Newarkers and build their women and minority-owned businesses.

In a similar fashion, David Troutt, who created and directs the Center for Law, inequality, and Metropolitan Equity (CLiME)—which also received support from the State of NJ in last year’s appropriation cycle—has produced an extraordinary series of data-filled reports on the housing affordability landscape in Newark and the substantial risk that Newark residents will be displaced by outside corporate real estate speculators buying up residential properties.  His data from CLiME then feed the Mayor’s Equitable Growth Advisory Commission, on which he sits along with Kevin Lyons, as a cross-sector array of participants work to produce inclusionary zoning ordinances, tenant eviction protections, limits on rent hikes, and spur the Mayor’s campaign to build affordable housing on publicly-owned land and to encourage affordable units in new private developments.

While these are only some of the examples that one can give across the breadth of anchor collaborations that our scholars and students and staff are doing in Newark, they demonstrate well how intertwined are the challenges on which Rutgers-Newark and Newark community partners are working, and they also bring me back to the commitment to expanding social mobility with which I began.  For not only does affordable housing impact community health and well-being, and public safety enable better K-12 experiences for our children of Newark, and building more capacity in local businesses and an equitable map of digital access produce more inter-generational wealth for families of Newark, but all of these collaborative efforts as a whole make it much more likely that the next diverse generation of Newarkers will go to and succeed in higher education.  There is so much talent waiting at our doors, and so many passionate voices ready to speak about their lives and our collective future.  So, onward, to a more equitable future.