NEWARK, NJ - While in high school, John-Anthony Arroyo, flunked freshman English and consistently ranked in the bottom third of his class. He was lost and did not know if college could be in his future.

A counselor encouraged Arroyo, of Paterson, to apply to college through the Education Opportunity Fund (EOF) program that was designed for students like him: disadvantaged, underrepresented, yet determined and full of promise.

“Too often, hope is a luxury that students don’t have, but EOF and programs like it can help change that,” said Arroyo, who is now a senior studying accounting and finance at Rutgers-Newark. “Knowing that Governor Murphy is prioritizing higher education gives me hope that kids growing up right now can learn how kids like me had a chance.”

Sign Up for Newark Newsletter
Our newsletter delivers the local news that you can trust.

Gov. Phil Murphy and Secretary of Higher Education Zakiya Smith Ellis announced the state’s vision for a Student Bill of Rights, a new plan to ensure higher education institutions meet student needs and propel New Jersey’s economy forward.

The objectives of the state plan are critical to achieving 65 percent postsecondary attainment by 2025 and committing the state to its vision – that every New Jerseyan, regardless of life circumstances, should have the opportunity to obtain a high-quality credential that prepares them for life after college.

“With this plan, we can open the door to a good paying job and a strong career. This is our pathway for closing the higher education achievement gap by better preparing every student for college,” Murphy said on Tuesday to a crowd at Rutgers-Newark. “Our vision is for an inclusive higher education system is not only groundbreaking, but it is eminently attainable.”

The plan organizes these rights into five main objectives for the state to take action on:

  • Expose students to postsecondary pathways through enhanced partnerships and access to fee-free college-preparatory programs;

  • Ensure college access and affordability by examining new partnerships between the state and institutions to meaningfully reduce higher education costs for students and their families;

  • Build support systems necessary to make sure students thrive in college and get across the graduation stage;

  • Ensure students feel safe, supported, and included in their chosen learning environments; and

  • Cultivate research, innovation, and talent to deepen and recapture our place as a leader in the innovation economy and effectively prepare students for success after college.

Murphy signed an executive order earlier today to create a task force on New Jersey’s Plan for Higher Education and divided them into five working groups, focusing on the five objectives.  Nancy Cantor, Chancellor of Rutgers-Newark will co-chair the Making College Affordable workgroup and Reginald Lewis, Executive Director of the Newark City of Learning Collaborative will co-chair the Student Success workgroup. The work groups are expected to issue reports within nine months.

The announcement came shortly after Murphy’s budget proposal that includes $20 million (in addition to last year’s $15 million) to reform funding for public four-year institutions that rewards students’ completion and support to close equity gaps for traditionally underserved populations. The $35 million will be distributed based on the number of degrees awarded in a fiscal year, the number of under-represented racial/ethnic minority degrees awarded; and the number of low-income students.

“Getting a college degree has never been more essential but also never more expensive,” said Smith Ellis. “Students from low and middle-income families wonder whether college will continue to be worth it for them given the increasing levels of debt required to get a degree.”

Since taking office, she had countless meetings with students, parents, faculty, staff and industry members throughout the state and use what she learned to create the student-focused vision to make higher education more accessible and affordable.

In exchange for funding, institutions must commit to the principles of the state plan for higher education, adopt a Financial Aid Shopping Sheet to make it transparent for all undergraduate students, and share information for funding improvements.

The budget also included $5 million more for Tuition Aid Grants and an additional $2.25 million to support the Education Opportunity Fund, which has supported students from disadvantaged backgrounds for 50 years.

“I am proud for the state to have this student-focused vision to chart the path forward,” said Secretary Smith Ellis. “This reassures young people and working adults that the promise of higher education is alive and strong in New Jersey.”