Secretary's Column

Secretary’s March 2017 Column

Equity, Diversity, Inclusion
Matter More than Ever

By Rochelle Hendricks
Secretary of Higher Education

Rochelle Hendricks

Historically, New Jersey has led the nation in providing a richly diverse student population with many pathways to gain access to life-changing, high-quality higher education. For nearly 50 years, the Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) program has helped thousands of students from the lowest income levels in the State achieve their dreams.

Annually, the program supports nearly 13,000 students at 41 institutions. A survey conducted by the Education Trust/Education Delivery Institute in Washington, D.C. found that New Jersey’s EOF program ranked first out of fifteen states when examining the six-year college graduation rate of low income students. As a testimony to the program’s success, in 2016, the program honored 1,000 graduating seniors for their academic achievement efforts. This event honored students who achieved a minimum of a 3.2 GPA (or higher) and those students who truly defined the mission and purpose of the EOF program.

Since 1999, our Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) initiative has helped thousands of disadvantaged students overcome obstacles and reach their highest potential. In partnership with eight higher education institutions, NJ GEAR UP serves students in 62 middle and high schools in nine cities throughout the State. An average of 98 percent of GEAR UP students graduate from high school and more than 80 percent of them enroll in an institution of higher education within six months of their high school graduation.

Because equity, diversity and inclusion are among our most important priorities, during my tenure as Secretary, we have introduced several critical new initiatives to expand and enhance our commitment to find meaningful, sustainable means to address the rapidly changing demographics of our State. We recognize that the future prosperity of our State is dependent upon a well-educated citizenry and that post-secondary credentials are fundamental to their economic future. Furthermore, higher education can and should serve as a beacon of hope and progress in upholding our guiding national principles.

The Student Success Collaborative last year brought together leaders with statewide, national and international experience, to identify and disseminate highly effective policies and strategies related to student safety and success.

Our Anchor Institution Initiative brings together select higher education institutions, community leaders and organizations to address the needs in five of our most challenged cities. This initiative recognizes the unique role our higher education institutions play in enhancing the future of our urban centers.

Our STEM Pathways Network is examining how we can best increase the number of women and minorities entering high-demand jobs and careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM).

I appreciate the engagement of the faculty, staff and students at our colleges and universities to create a culture on each and every campus that promotes the common good, modeling what is possible throughout our great democracy. Together, we can accelerate our progress in equity, diversity and inclusion, undergirding our commitment to serve the public good.

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