Last winter, when TCNJ received $1 million from an anonymous source, the donor or donors stipulated that $750,000 of the funds be used to support scholarships for underrepresented groups. In keeping with that wish, the College designated the money toward scholarships for students in the Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) Program.
The first seven recipients of the award, which is being called the Anonymous Promise Scholarship, were announced last spring. The students—Yvesna Blaise, Jule Keith Brooks, Valery Camarena, Valisha Edwards, Luis Guillen, Alexandra Ramirez, and Marcelo Rivera—are sophomore EOF students. Each was chosen for his or her work ethic and academic performance as a first-year student, said James Boatwright, director of academic support programs, the office that oversees TCNJ’s EOF Program.
Camarena, an international studies major who hopes to one day work with the Red Cross, sees the scholarship as more than just a form of financial aid. “It’s also a source of motivation” she said.
“The Anonymous Promise Scholarship has made me determined to work harder and not be afraid to reach for new heights,” Camarena said. “I plan on becoming the first person in my family to earn a bachelor’s degree, and the Anonymous Promise Scholarship will help me get there.”
Brooks, who plans to one day teach health and physical education, is also considering attending graduate school for physical therapy. He said the Anonymous Promise Scholarship provided him with “a sense of security that hard work eventually pays off.”
All of the recipients credit the Anonymous Promise Award, and especially the EOF Program as a whole, with making college possible. “My family would not be able to afford the costs of attending college” without EOF or the award, said Guillen. It is a sentiment echoed by several of the Anonymous Promise Scholars.
EOF is a statewide program that provides funding to highly motivated, economically disadvantaged students. EOF students receive tuition assistance from a number of federal and state sources; however, the aid received often does not cover the full cost of receiving a college education.
Boatwright said that EOF students are often expected to cover upwards of $9,000 of their own tuition. That is often impossible, he said, given the financial situation from which these students come.
The result was that an alarming number of EOF students were dropping out of college because they simply could not cover the costs, Boatwright said.
In response, TCNJ started the EOF Promise Award, which assists EOF students in bridging the gap between direct and indirect costs of receiving an education. In the four years since the award’s inception, retention rates within the program have improved almost 10 percent, Boatwright said.
This latest influx of $750,000 to the Promise Award will help ensure more EOF students are able to continue on the path to achieving a college education.
“EOF students have the tools needed to succeed at TCNJ—one of the most academically challenging schools in the country,” Boatwright noted. “It just comes down to whether or not they can afford to stay. The EOF Promise Award, and by extension the Anonymous Promise Scholarship, address the financial insecurities these students have…so that they can concentrate on their studies and remain at TCNJ.”
Currently, the Promise Awards fund EOF students through their first two years at TCNJ. For years three and four, students must seek out loans and other scholarships to cover costs. The reality is that, despite TCNJ’s relative affordability, some EOF students still cannot afford the costs incurred during the third and fourth year. Boatwright hopes that the Promise Award can soon be expanded beyond year two.
“I’m confident the retention rates will be even higher if that happens,” said Boatwright. “EOF students have the desire to be here. It all comes down to affordability.”