For 40 at-risk students in Newark, (free) college education now is reality

Baraka announces students selected to attend Saint Elizabeth University in program where $1M grant will pick up any outstanding costs

Municipalities throughout the state make hundreds of announcements each day. It’s hard to imagine many having the potential to make a greater impact.

On Monday, Mayor Ras Baraka announced the 40 at-risk students that the city of Newark will ensure will receive free tuition and housing for four years at Saint Elizabeth University in Morris Township. It’s a life-changing opportunity if there ever was one.

Newark’s Office of Violence Prevention and Trauma Recovery and the Brick City Peace Collective will work in partnership with Saint Elizabeth on the pilot program — which the city hopes to make an annual event. The program is being supported through a $1 million grant by the city.

To be eligible, students must be a Newark resident, have a cumulative grade point average between 1.8 and 2.5, and must choose an academic focus in social work, psychology, education or nursing.

The program is for at-risk students who have an incarcerated parent, have a parent who was recently released from incarceration within the past two years, have lost a parent or sibling to violence, is a victim of violence or is a first-generation college student.

Baraka said the impact of the program is easy to see.

“With fewer than 16% of Newarkers having a bachelor’s degree, and the majority of Black and brown students financing their education through debt, it’s critical that more opportunities are created for students to go to college without crippling burdens of student loans,” he said.

“We are starting with 40 of our at-risk Newark students for this program, and we will continue to make it a priority to help close the wealth and education gap.”

Following the event, the students and families were taken to Saint Elizabeth for a campus tour and lunch with President Gary Crosby and his staff.

Crosby, who started at Saint Elizabeth last fall, said the school is all-in.

“Saint Elizabeth University is excited to welcome these students and their families through this outstanding partnership with the city of Newark and Mayor Baraka,” he said. “This institution is committed to working closely with our students, providing them with the tools they need to succeed both academically and personally.

“Following SEU’s longstanding mission, our goal is to not only provide these 40 students with engaging educational programs, but to inspire them to effect positive change in their community.”

The city of Newark will sponsor the cost of the four-year program for the selected students. The grant represents “last dollar” funding that takes into account individual students’ federal, state and institutional financial assistance. The pilot will be administered through Saint Elizabeth’s Educational Opportunity Fund program, with the students beginning their college journey at SEU this June.

David Hill, director of EOF at Saint Elizabeth, applauded the moment.

“Today is a great day for the city of Newark, Saint Elizabeth University and all EOF campus programs statewide,” he said. “These 40 individuals will not only have access to higher education without the burden of college debt, but they will also receive the high-quality support and educational experiences intended to assist them 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.”

Newark Board of Education Superintendent Roger León said it’s a big moment for the residents of the city.

“We are excited about this incredible scholarship opportunity, the Guaranteed Education Program, provided to our high school seniors through the generosity of the city of Newark and Saint Elizabeth University,” he said. “Our students realize their dreams are real and do come true, and that is all beginning today with this amazing announcement.”