OF NEW JERSEY
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Educational Opportunity Fund
adopted October 1997
The New Jersey Educational Opportunity Fund is one of the nation's most comprehensive and successful state-supported efforts to provide access to higher education for disadvantaged students. EOF is a collaborative effort between the EOF Board of Directors, which administers the program, and the state's colleges and universities, which recruit and directly serve the students. Board members, who are appointed by the Governor, set policy, approve all necessary regulations for the program's operation, develop the annual budget request for the statewide program, and support EOF programs at New Jersey public and independent colleges and universities. The EOF Board also oversees a small graduate grant program, as well as the C. Clyde Ferguson Law and the Martin Luther King Physician-Dentist Scholarships.
The program has been successful in providing access and opportunity for students from the state's most distressed municipalities. Moreover, EOF has proven to be a valuable seedbed for educational innovations that have found broad applicability in the larger higher education community. EOF has also been a leader in increasing diversity in New Jersey's institutions of higher education.
The state has experienced major demographic, economic, and social changes since the program's inception. Foremost has been a global economic restructuring that has contributed to a significant decline of the state's manufacturing base and the almost total shift of new employment from the state's urban cores to the suburbs and emerging fringe communities. New Jersey has joined the developing global marketplace fueled by an information technology revolution and the concomitant growth of service industries no longer tied to the urban areas of the state.
In this new environment higher education access and opportunity are even more critical than at the program's inception in 1968. The completion of a higher education is increasingly the dividing line between those individuals, families, and communities that are experiencing the benefits of the new economy and those who are being left behind. EOF assumes a more important public policy role as a bridge to the new economy for those who remain in communities that have not participated in the economic and social transformation of the past decade.
During the 1996/97 academic year, the Board, working in collaboration with key stakeholders, engaged in a planning process to explore how the program should best respond to the state's changing economic, educational, and social conditions. The dialogue examined the critical issues facing the EOF program and how we can work with the higher education community in the development of a "shared vision" and an expanded mission for the EOF program--under the guiding principles of promoting access, enhancing quality, and maintaining accountability.
The following report is issued in accordance with the Board's responsibility to inform the Commission on Higher Education, the Governor, and the Legislature about the status and progress of the Fund as well as the key issues and challenges facing EOF, how the Fund contributes to the well-being of the state, and the Board's long-term vision and priorities.
Over the past decade, the Fund has been challenged to provide access and successful outcomes for a population of students that is relatively poorer in comparison to the state's general population, and increasingly isolated from the incredible economic opportunities and changes that have occurred in the rest of the state. Despite these challenges, the Fund continues to provide access and opportunity to students from the state's most distressed communities and has achieved significant gains in short-term retention.
Key findings and recommendations include:
The New Jersey Commission on Higher Education issued its plan for higher education, "Looking to the New Millennium", in October 1996. The plan articulated a "vision and characteristics of excellence" to guide the future development of higher education in New Jersey. Central to accomplishing the Commission's vision for higher education are programs which serve educationally and economically disadvantaged students. The New Jersey Educational Opportunity Fund is the primary state program for providing access to higher education for economically and educationally disadvantaged students. Supporting over 13,000 students and funded at $32 million in fiscal year 1997, the program is one of the most comprehensive and successful state-supported programs of its kind in higher education to provide educational opportunity for disadvantaged students.
The Commission's report made the following recommendations which are consistent with many of the high priority issues the EOF Board has addressed over the last two years:
In anticipation of the Commission's recommendations, the EOF Board of Directors held a series of meetings in the fall of 1996 with college and university presidents, EOF directors, and other campus officials. The purpose of the meetings was to explore the critical issues facing the EOF program and to work with the higher education community on the development of a shared vision and expanded mission for the EOF program under the guiding principles of promoting access, enhancing quality, and maintaining accountability.
To develop a framework for the discussion, the Executive Committee of the EOF Board assembled a small working group which consisted of five institutional presidents, Rutgers University administrators and members of the New Jersey Educational Opportunity Fund Professional Association, the Executive Director of the Commission on Higher Education, EOF Central Office staff and participants from the Educational Testing Service (ETS). Aided by a nationally recognized facilitator and expert on opportunity programs, the group examined the Fund's mission and related critical issues. The working group met on September 30, 1996 at ETS, identified key issues for consideration, and suggested questions for the EOF Fall Symposium.
As a follow-up, a one-day symposium was held at Rutgers University - Busch Campus. Participants included EOF Board members, and EOF directors and their reporting supervisors. Grouped by institutional sectors and aided by external facilitators, the participants reviewed the recommendations of the working group and focused their discussions on the future mission, goals, and needs of the Fund.
The New Jersey Educational Opportunity Fund was created by law to ensure access to higher education for those burdened by economic and educational disadvantages. EOF provides access to higher education for highly motivated students who exhibit the potential for success but for whom (because of backgrounds of extreme hardship) the likelihood of attending college is remote without the services and support of the program. To ensure such individuals the opportunity to attend college, EOF supplies supplemental financial aid to help defray the costs of attendance such as tuition (at Independent institutions), fees, books, and room and board. To ensure that students have a viable opportunity to succeed and graduate, EOF funds an array of campus-based adaptive and academic support services.
EOF is not an entitlement program but rather a program that provides academic support linked to financial assistance. Each participating institution selects only those students who, based upon the institutions' professional judgment, demonstrate commitment and motivation and have a reasonable chance of success with the services provided at that institution. EOF students are expected to meet high standards. The program provides the extra support that may be necessary to make up for prior educational disadvantages or to help students negotiate difficult life circumstances. However, EOF students are required to make satisfactory academic progress to continue to receive the program services and financial assistance, and EOF students must meet the same graduation standards that are required of all students.
The EOF program has been successful in meeting the challenge of providing access to higher education for New Jersey's economically and educationally disadvantaged citizens. Nevertheless, new challenges lie ahead driven by the state's changing economy and the diversification of its workforce. A look at EOF -- past, present, and future --is instructive in determining the vision and evolving mission of the Fund.
Despite concerns about potential declines in commitment to EOF and its student enrollment as a result of higher education restructuring, the opposite has occurred. Undergraduate EOF enrollments are at the highest levels in the program's history (refer to Figure 1) and EOF students comprised over 12% of the entering New Jersey first-time, full-time freshmen students statewide during fall 1996. During fall 1996, 12,500 students participated in the program at 41 New Jersey institutions of higher education.
EOF has been an important avenue of access and diversity for New Jersey residents from disadvantaged and/or minority backgrounds. Initially, the program provided access to students (primarily minorities) who had been systemically excluded by practice and custom from New Jersey colleges and universities. The EOF program has had a significant impact on increasing the enrollment of minority students in New Jersey's higher education institutions. Prior to the program's inception, minority students comprised less than three-percent of the total full-time undergraduate enrollment within New Jersey's public and independent institutions, while minority enrollment in graduate and professional education was estimated to be less than one-percent.
Needless to say, the state's colleges and universities have made significant strides in increasing minority student enrollment. The program, however, continues to provide access to a significant proportion of Black, Latino, and Asian-American students from low-income households. While never limited to minority students (Whites comprise over 20% of the total program enrollment), today approximately one-quarter of all African-American and Latino students are enrolled at New Jersey colleges and universities through EOF (refer to Table 1). In addition, EOF continues to serve as the initial point of campus contact for many minority students, since there are several institutions where the EOF office provides support and enrichment services to non-EOF minority students also.
Percent of Black and Hispanic Full-Time Undergraduates
Enrolled through EOF by Institutional Sector, 1970, 1980, 1990 and 1996
The program itself has experienced major student demographic shifts over the past decade, as increasing numbers and proportions of Hispanics other than Puerto Ricans and Asians have both migrated to New Jersey and enrolled in college through EOF. During the program's early years Black students comprised over 60% of the total EOF enrollment. That began to change during the late 1970's as more Puerto Rican students enrolled in college through the program and (most notably since the mid-1980's) as "Other Hispanics" have rapidly increased in number. Today, Black students continue to be the single largest group of program participants, but a much smaller proportion of the total EOF enrollment than a decade ago (refer to Table 2 and Appendix A).
EOF Enrollment by Race/Ethnicity, Fall 1986, 1996
The number of "Other Hispanic" and Asian enrollments has doubled over the past decade, while Black and White enrollments have increased but at a much slower rate. Conversely, Puerto Ricans have experienced a decline in numbers. However, when viewed as a "group" the proportion of EOF students labeled "Hispanic" (Puerto Ricans and Other Hispanics) has grown tremendously over the life of the program from approximately four-percent in 1968, to over 30% of the total enrollment today.
The program continues to provide access for the state's neediest residents as an avenue to higher education for deserving students from the state's most distressed communities and households. For example:
Another significant contribution of the EOF program has been its goal to make college accessible and affordable for low-income families--many of whom live at or below the poverty level. The Board adopted major increases in the income eligibility ceilings in 1994 in response to economic and demographic changes in the state since the program's inception. The Fund continues to provide access to those truly in need of assistance. Figure 2 compares the median family income distribution of dependent and independent EOF students for the years 1970, 1980, 1990, and 1996 as matched against the general state population.
The data indicate that EOF provides access to students from the state's neediest households. Indeed, the gap between the median EOF family income and the state median family income has widened significantly over the life of the program. At the program's inception in 1970, the EOF median family income was 40% of the state's median family income (refer to Table 3). By 1990, the median EOF family income had declined to only 29% of the state's median family income. Over this period, the students served by the program were relatively poorer than those students served in the 1970's. While the EOF Board has approved aggressive increases in the program's income eligibility criteria, the gap between the EOF median family income and the state remains large. This is perhaps a reflection of the growing concentration of poverty in the state's most distressed communities, where most EOF students reside.
Ratio, EOF Median Income as a Percentage of NJ Median Family Income
Essential for the success and retention of EOF students is adequate financial assistance to help meet the costs of college attendance. Because EOF students are among the neediest students enrolled at our institutions, student assistance is critical to their persistence in college. It is important to note that for the purposes of our discussion affordability centers on the full costs of attendance rather than a more limited view of tuition only. Cost of attendance more accurately reflects what students and their families face when trying to finance a college education. The data indicate that affordability for EOF students is a growing concern, when measured by the percent of college attendance costs covered by grant assistance. Since the EOF Board last visited this issue, the average costs of college attendance has significantly outpaced the amount of available grant assistance (refer to Table 4). For example, between the 1990/91 and 1996/97 academic years the following changes occurred:
Comparison, Cost of College Attendance versus Available Public Grant Assistance
Comparison, Cost of College Attendance versus Available Public Grant Assistance
Comparison, Cost of College Attendance versus Available Public Grant Assistance
Comparison, Cost of College Attendance versus Available Public Grant Assistance
There are a number of factors driving these trends including college attendance costs that continue to greatly outpace inflation, a change in federal policy over the past two decades that shifted the emphasis of federal student assistance from grants to loans, and the inability to secure regular increases to the EOF student grant. The primary focus of state student assistance policy is tuition, rather than the actual cost of attendance which includes room, board, fees, books, computer, etc. As a result, since TAG's inception in 1977, EOF Article III awards for students were increased only three times. The last increase, in FY 1996, was the first in almost a decade and brought maximum annual awards to $750 for county college students, $1,100 for senior public institutions, and $2,100 for independent institutions.
EOF Academic Year Student Grant Levels
Accountability and Outcomes
Critical to continued public support for programs like the Educational Opportunity Fund are outcome measures. (i.e., factors related to student academic progress and graduation rates) which demonstrate responsible stewardship of public funds.
Since the Fund's inception, the EOF Board of Directors has maintained a system of accountability essential for its operation and success. In the early years, the program's accountability efforts were developed in response to external pressures which required frequent justification of all aspects of the program's operation and the need to monitor the progress and commitment of individual institutions. Since then EOF's accountability efforts have significantly shifted from primarily monitoring student access, campus climate, and program structure to an assessment of student outcomes.
Over the past decade the program has made great strides in maintaining access and improving overall short-term retention. The figures in Appendix B demonstrate by sector significant cohort retention improvements since the program's current longitudinal tracking system was initiated in 1986. It should also be noted that the gains in retention occurred while the primary target population became more diverse and relatively poorer in relation to the general state population, and during a period of heightened concern about declining conditions in the state's neediest public school districts. Yet the data show that improvements in retention occurred over time. Now the Board must focus on the Fund's unfinished agenda - improving graduation rates
While the state has made considerable progress toward realizing the promise of access, one of the major problems/challenges that must be addressed by higher education, both nationally and in New Jersey, is narrowing the disparities in graduation rates between disadvantaged and minority students and that of non-minority students. In New Jersey the gap between six-year cohort graduation rates for Black and Latino students and White and Asian students is 15 to 20 percentage points.
This issue was raised by the EOF Board in "Eye on the Future" (1991) and more recently by the Commission on Higher Education, "Higher Education: Our Renewable Resource" (1995) and "Looking to the New Millennium: New Jersey's Plan for Higher Education" (1996). Most available retention literature is limited to short-term retention improvement, prefreshman summer programs, freshman year programs, and student success in individual courses. While there is some information about programs/frameworks to improve long-term retention and graduation, the majority of graduation research simply reports student characteristics and graduation rates rather than models that can improve graduation outcomes. A research priority for the Board is one which examines the key issues related to improving graduation and transfer rates and identifies the barriers that presently exist.
As a first step, the Governor included in the Commission on Higher Education's FY 1998 budget a $1 million competitive incentive grant program to assist institutions in implementing strategies that have proven effective in improving graduation and transfer rates for minority or low-income students. Additionally, the EOF Board, in collaboration with the NJEOFPA, supports a pilot project to redesign programs at 13 public and independent institutions with the goal of improving retention and graduation of EOF students.
EOF is the only state-supported initiative that specifically targets and prepares individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds to earn associate, baccalaureate, graduate, and professional degrees. Today access to postsecondary education is more important than ever before. Educational attainment has become a major determinant of success and social mobility in society. Nationally, the only groups demonstrating income growth and upward mobility are households where one or more of the adults has completed at least a baccalaureate degree. Higher education not only helps to promote the values of democratic citizenship necessary for social stability and quality of life, but also increasingly provides the essential foundation of skills and knowledge that prepare individuals to participate and compete in the workforce. In this vein, the access and support provided by EOF is vital to New Jersey. The Fund serves as higher education's major initiative for access and opportunity for individuals from backgrounds and circumstances that are least conducive for entry and participation in higher education, and the workforce or for full participation in society.
A number of studies suggest several economic, population, and social trends in the state that emphasize the need for the postsecondary opportunity and services provided by EOF:
When viewed as a whole, these demographic, economic, and social changes not only present New Jersey with daunting challenges but also offer numerous opportunities. EOF, working in partnership with higher education institutions, will need to play a central role in improving the educational achievement of minorities and urban residents.
The initial deliberations of the working group assembled by the Executive Committee of the EOF Board and outcomes of a one-day symposium resulted in the following recommendations:
Accountability must be a core component of the Board's planning for the future. The Board should work with institutions to develop an accountability system which recognizes the unique mission and goals of each participating institution and provides the essential measures to assure the public and key stakeholders about the value of public investment in EOF. Furthermore, an accountability system should include elements, especially in funding components, which recognize exceptional institutional commitment and success in educating and graduating EOF students.
Through its Educational Opportunity Fund, New Jersey will be the national leader in providing access to higher education for its students from educationally and economically disadvantaged backgrounds. EOF will play a central role in increasing the diversity of students participating in postsecondary education and contribute to the preparation of citizens for entrance into the state's skilled workforce. EOF will develop partnerships with colleges and universities, K-12, pre-college, and community-based programs to strengthen the pipeline between each level of education in support of the transition to higher education. The Fund will support high-quality programs and educational experiences intended to assist students to persist to graduation and to prepare them with the knowledge, skills, abilities, and values which are necessary to compete in both a regional and global multicultural workplace, graduate study, and other personal and civic endeavors.
EOF contributes to the development of a college-educated public that reflects the diversity of New Jersey, by working in partnership with New Jersey colleges and universities and the K-12 educational system to provide access to higher education for students from families/communities disadvantaged by low income and the lack of access to the quality educational preparation necessary to attend college. The Fund will partner with established pre-college efforts and seek to initiate additional opportunities to identify and prepare students for college at the pre-collegiate level. At the postsecondary level, the access and opportunity provided by the Fund is not limited to simply meeting freshman (or transfer) student enrollment goals but to also focus on student success. In this vein, EOF provides support for educational initiatives, support services, and leadership development activities that assist students to improve their chances of success in specific majors and careers fields and prepares them for the changing world of work and to assume leadership in their communities and the state.
EOF's statewide goals and expectations for participating institutions must be linked to the general mission of the Fund as well as to the different missions of participating institutions. Each institution, within the bounds of its unique mission (which determines its educational program, service area and student profile), will develop the services and program that will increase EOF students' opportunities for success.
The goal of the Fund is to identify promising students (those who demonstrate the commitment, motivation, and potential for success) who, with the special/supplementary educational, and financial support provided by the Fund and participating institutions, demonstrate the commitment and potential to successfully complete undergraduate study leading to an approved certificate; an associate degree; transfer from a county college to a senior college or university; a baccalaureate degree; and for graduate and professional students, leading to an approved master's, doctoral or professional degree. EOF is not intended to serve as an adult basic education, language proficiency, literacy, or short-term job-training program.
The 10% freshman goal should remain to ensure that public institutions share in meeting statewide access needs and that higher educational opportunity continues to be an option for promising students from the state's neediest communities and school districts.
Improving student success, as measured by a) community college to senior institution transfer rates, b) cohort retention, and c) graduation rates, is the major task facing the Fund. In New Jersey, we have achieved proportional (and in some cases more than proportional) freshman enrollment of minority and disadvantaged students when compared nationally. Yet New Jersey, like the rest of the nation, has not adequately or successfully addressed the issue of improving opportunity as measured by student graduation rates. Each participating institution should examine it strengths and weaknesses and connect program activities with its mission by developing a plan to close the graduation gap between EOF and other students. In addition, future funding requests and allocations should target as a priority specific initiatives aimed at improving EOF student transfer and graduation rates and preparation for majors in which disadvantaged students are underrepresented.
Earlier student identification and intervention with educational enrichment, leadership development, and career exposure will be necessary to ensure access and opportunity. This becomes even more critical as colleges and universities seek to increase entrance requirements and strengthen curricula to prepare students for an increasingly competitive workplace and global citizenship. Early intervention becomes an important strategy to help reduce a student's need for extensive remediation at the college level. In addition, it is clear that early identification and intervention are necessary to increase the enrollment of minority males who are woefully underrepresented in higher education. To expand the pipeline of students who are able to take advantage of the educational opportunity provided by the Fund, EOF must establish closer working partnerships with established pre-collegiate efforts such as College Bound and the Federal Upward Bound and Talent Search Programs. In addition, the Fund must develop early identification and intervention initiatives for populations and communities that current efforts are unable to serve.
Career exploration, skills development, and internships/cooperative education to prepare EOF students for the world of work are other experiences critical in a student's education that the Fund should promote. By and large, EOF students come from communities and demographic groups that experience high levels of long-term underemployment and unemployment. This is particularly true of those from federal and state designated labor surplus areas. Many of these areas have not experienced the economic growth and positive transformation of the past decade. An important component of the EOF effort in the future will be to create local initiatives within campus programs to help develop workplace skills including redesigning counseling to place greater emphasis on specific job related skills such as leadership and communications, interpersonal relations, and teamwork. Also campus programs should focus on providing opportunities for work-based learning through planned use and allocation of campus employment to developing internship opportunities. EOF programs, in collaboration with other resources (i.e. partnerships with businesses and nonprofit organizations), must educate students about the changing economy and workplace and provide students with a regional/global perspective as a component of career education.
Improving student success and program outcomes will require research and program experimentation beyond the current state of the art in student retention practices and current literature on the subject. In addition to assisting in policy development, the Board will require information about changing demographic and economic issues, and emerging best practices to improve student learning for diverse student populations. The Fund should establish the capacity to help institutions initiate research on local issues that will help improve the quality of education and student success. It is essential for the Board as a policy making group to fully understand the barriers to student success.
Campuses are microcosms of the larger society and, as a result, societal conflicts over issues of race, ethnicity, and class are also concerns for EOF and students who enroll through the program. Nevertheless, it is incumbent upon campus EOF staff, students, and the parent institutions to cast programs in a favorable light and to operate in accordance with the highest levels of professionalism and responsiveness, maintaining high expectations and standards for students.
The purpose of this paper is not to provide a list of prescriptive approaches or program models but rather to identify critical areas that can be addressed by varying degrees depending upon the mission and culture of individual institutions. These areas include:
The future success of the Fund depends upon the strength of the partnership between the State (represented by the Governor, Legislature, EOF Board of Directors, and Commission on Higher Education), the Presidents' Council, institutions of higher education, and students. Each of these stakeholders plays important roles.
The Role of the State:
The Role of the Institution:
The Role of the Student:
Both the working group and the symposium participants agreed that an accountability system was critical to the Fund. The current EOF accountability system was developed under the philosophy that there was a need for strong central oversight and direct institutional program monitoring and intervention. The future requires a system that assures the public and other critical stakeholders that EOF is a wise investment and that participating institutions are meeting access and student outcome goals. But the system should also be useful to the institutions, assisting them with local self-study and identifying program improvements without increasing staff resources devoted to paperwork or creating undue work-flow demands that detract from providing services to students. Both groups indicated that any future system should include the following elements:
EOF Enrollment Trends
EOF Retention Data