A recent study focusing on the retention rate of TCNJ students who entered the Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) Program in 2004 showed that a new funding initiative has produced exceptional results. While the EOF Program has enjoyed considerable success since it was adopted by the College in 1968, the EOF Promise Award initiated by President R. Barbara Gitenstein three years ago has caused a spike in the rate of retention of EOF students.
The EOF Program provides access for students who come from economically distressed environments or lack access to quality educational preparation for college. The EOF Promise Award is an added incentive designed to meet the full cost of attendance at TCNJ for these students’ freshman and sophomore years. The first year of the program is paid for by the College through grants and scholarships. The second year is also funded, but there is a work component to make certain the student develops a sense of ownership. (Prior to 2004, college expenses were only paid through the first year.)
For the 2004 cohort, the retention rate from the first year to the second year was 96.7 percent, and the rate entering the third academic year was 79.3 percent. That nearly doubled the average retention rate for EOF students prior to the Promise Award. In addition, institutional data confirms that EOF graduates from TCNJ are experiencing high success rates in their chosen fields. “What makes those numbers even more astounding is that TCNJ has transformed its curriculum, making it more difficult to earn a degree,” noted James Boatwright, director of the Office of Academic Support Programs. “The standards are higher than ever, and the academic work is tougher. The core of the program is to instill an attitude of high expectations in the students. We expect the EOF students to do well, and we make them fully aware of those expectations.”
New Jersey high school students who are accepted to TCNJ as part of the EOF Program are required to attend a fiveweek summer program described as intensive academic training. The emphasis of the program is on reading, writing, and math skills. Professors and tutors live in residence halls with the students to provide greater access and prepare the incoming freshmen for their first semester of classes. Acceptance to EOF hinges on adequate performance and completion of the summer program. Once the fall semester begins, students must fulfill specified requirements throughout the academic year, including six to nine extra study hours per week and a weekly meeting with program specialists.
According to Boatwright, there is an underlying theme that is often preached to the EOF students. The fact that they come from a disadvantaged situation can either be used as an excuse or a source of resolve. “It’s only a disadvantage if you believe it’s a disadvantage,” explained Boatwright. “It’s a state of mind. Instead of people always telling these kids ‘they can’t,’ we like to tell them, ‘Yes, you can.’”