Student/Partner Alliance helps N.J. kids get into college — and stay in state when they’re done

New Jersey might have some of the region’s top higher education institutions, but it’s also the country’s top exporter of students.

That’s right — students are leaving the university-rich state in droves. The most recent National Center for Education Statistics information points to a gap of 28,605 students in a year between those coming into the state for higher education and those leaving it, more migration than any other state.

But there’s one Garden State nonprofit looking to prove that there’s plenty of talented students here that — if shown the way — would be happy to end up at a New Jersey college. In fact, through the Student/Partner Alliance, they’re doing just that.

The organization supports students at seven high schools in New Jersey’s urban areas of Essex, Hudson and Union counties. Margaret Momber, the group’s executive director, said most of the students mentored through the Student/Partner Alliance go on to study at Garden State colleges.

Margaret Momber

“And then they stay in New Jersey,” she said. “We know for a long time that’s been an issue — students going out of state for college and never coming back. A lot of tax dollars go to educating people in our schools who don’t stay and work here in New Jersey.”

That’s more than $20,000 per student for K-12 education each year, according to a New Jersey Business & Industry Association report on outmigration of millennial students. State leaders are still hoping to learn more about the phenomenon, but it’s certainly the case that the Garden State has enough high-income families to support costly out-of-state tuition.

That’s not the whole story, however.

There’s also a lot of youth from lower-income areas who aren’t provided the same opportunities to pursue post-secondary education, never mind an expensive degree outside the state, Momber said. The Student/Partner Alliance puts those students in touch with mentors and provides tuition assistance to better their odds of getting into college.

“What our program addresses is the need to provide opportunities to motivated students who live in areas where public schools don’t always provide the kind of education the students need to go onto college,” she said. “Ultimately, it enables those students to have productive jobs in the workforce.”

Companies are looking for the best educated employees they can find today, Momber added. That means college degrees have become a baseline.

Ann Kent, director of marketing and communications for the Student/Partner Alliance, said that the assumption of a university education hasn’t been shared by all Garden State families.

“Most of our students are coming from single-parent households earning well below what would usually be required to go to these schools,” she said. “And these students are also usually the first generation to go to college.”

The mentors that pair up with the organization’s students — a group of more than 50 this year — help make it seem a lot more realistic, Kent added.

“And it’s important for these students to have another adult figure showing genuine interest in their studies,” Kent said. “That’s not as easy as writing a check. It requires putting in the time.”

The organization’s mentors often go the extra mile — literally. Kent explained that there have been times when mentors drove students to colleges for tours themselves. For some students, even another part of the start might seem to be a world away.

For that reason and many others, the organization isn’t going anywhere.

“If education in all of our towns were equivalent to the kind of public education you can get in a wealthy town like Short Hills or Summit, there wouldn’t be a need for our program,” Momber said. “But from what I’ve seen, and what I foresee, the need for our program will continue.”

Conversation Starter

Reach the Student/Partner Alliance at: studentpartneralliance.orgor 908-522-0405.