Build It and They Will Come: The Success of Rutgers Future Scholars

Written by Lisa Bleich.

RU future scholars

Build it and they will come.  That is the famous line from the movie, Field of Dreams, but it is also the adage of Rutgers University’s Future Scholars Program.  In 2007, right before the fall of the market, Courtney McAnuff, VP for Enrollment Manager at Rutgers University was tasked with creating a program that would provide access for low-income students in the local communities where Rutgers’ campuses are located (New Brunswick, Piscataway, Camden and Newark).

He conceived of an ambitious program called Rutgers Future Scholars  aimed at high-potential 7th graders with family incomes of $40,000 or less. The idea was to try to mitigate all obstacles of graduating high school such as family instability and insufficient academic preparation. While the focus was on high school completion, it extended to college attendance and financial pressure to pay for college. The Future Scholars program would include:

  • An all year wrap around program
  • A 3-6 week summer enrichment program
  • A multi-year mentoring program
  • Career training and internships
  • A Rutgers/high school partnership
  • Additional programs in place to serve the needs of the entire family and parents
  • Full tuition and expenses paid at Rutgers for all students who were accepted to Rutgers.

Much to McAnuff’s surprise, Rutger’s President, Robert Barchi, approved the program. Never mind that they did not yet have funding or an actual program in place; Barchi approved the program and announced to the proposed partner schools that it would begin that summer.  So McAnnuff and his team scrambled to raise money to create the program starting with 50 students from each area.

They started with 7th graders who had at least a 3.4 GPA, were taking honors or advanced classes in middle school and had a high degree of self-efficacy and grit.  Because at the end of the day, the grit, as I’ve written before, will take students far!

Aramis Guitierrez, Director, Rutgers Future Scholars Program, described for us some of the obstacles and triumphs of the program.  They had no idea how much the family situation of the students would impede their ability to perform in school.  Yet, this did not stop them from creating safety nets for students.  One of the RU future scholars became an orphan during high school.  Guitierrez and his team became social workers, finding him a series of homes in which to live until he could find a stable home environment.  But with the help and support of this program, this young man just finished his freshman year at Rutgers and is poised to continue.

The first cohort of RU future scholars included 183 members and 97% of those students graduated high school and all earned early college credit!  Additionally 163 out of the initial cohort of 183 attended college; 99 of them attend Rutgers!

The beauty of this program, McAnuff says, “it is economically based, not race based.”  It focuses on those high potential students who are at most risk not to achieve their potential and demonstrates that with the right support, they can achieve great things. Some important lessons learned from Rutgers Future Scholars are:

  • It is important that the program meets a pressing need in the community
  • Support from the highest level of the university it critical for success
  • Crucial to partnership with the schools in the community (middle and high school).
  • Critical to address family issues
  • Corporations are interested in investing in programs like this
  • Good data is huge and Rutgers has developed that during the past six years
  • It’s a public investment with an outstanding return

McAnnuff estimates that NJ’s return on investment is $30 million for every 200 students that go through the program, which costs $4 million! Interestingly, the state did not donate one penny towards the program, but now that there is such compelling data, McAnuff will present findings to the state for support.  Other schools and states looking to replicate the program have also approached RU.

I applaud McAnuff and his team for their foresight and perseverance to envision and implement such a successful and much-needed program.  It is proof positive that if you build it, they will come and succeed!

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