Key To Success

Hispanic Community October 2021 PREMIUM
How Rutgers University–Camden Appeals To Diversity And Inclusiveness

Written by Antonio D. Tillis, Ph.D., Chancellor

At Rutgers University–Camden, more than 6,800 students enrolled in undergraduate and graduate programs have entrusted us to support, guide, and prepare them to find success on their respective academic journeys.

Our faculty, committed to excellence in research and teaching, lead nearly 40 undergraduate programs, including special programs and an Honors College. We also offer nearly 30 graduate programs, including three interdisciplinary Ph.D. programs, a doctorate in nursing practice, an M.B.A., and the only law school in southern New Jersey.

As a public research university, Rutgers–Camden has earned respect among our peers – and trust among our students – for our pioneering approach that combines teaching, research, civic engagement, and experiential learning opportunities to serve the needs of a diverse student population. In light of this dedicated focus, the percentage of Hispanic students enrolled at Rutgers–Camden has grown steadily from 11.86% in 2014 to 20.12% in 2021.

So, what are we doing right?

Inclusive outreach to Hispanic students

It all begins with our inclusive community outreach. We have focused our recruitment efforts in high schools and communities with large Hispanic populations, allowing students and their families to discover the myriad opportunities that await them at Rutgers–Camden, how accessible these opportunities are, and the financial resources available for those who need it. We also offer Instant Decision Days at county and community colleges that serve large Hispanic populations.

Our recruitment efforts are facilitated by Spanish-speaking staff members and students. We also offer bilingual presentations to students and families on federal financial assistance, as well as bilingual admissions application workshops and orientation programs.

Our ability to meet students where they are continues on campus, where staff members in admissions and financial aid are fluent in Spanish, and admissions and financial aid events are held in both Spanish and English. There is more to come, as we are currently working on a new admissions website with parallel Spanish webpages.

At Rutgers–Camden, students will also find the holistic support necessary to earn a degree and prepare for a successful career. This commitment is especially important for first-generation students and those from families with very limited resources.

In fall 2020, the percentage of Hispanic students enrolled at Rutgers–Camden who were the first in their family to attend college was 47.5%, compared to 30.2% for all first-generation students on campus.

A plethora of initiatives to help students navigate college and overcome barriers

As someone who was a first-generation student, I am particularly attuned to the extraordinary opportunities that Rutgers–Camden provides for our students, as well as the challenges that our students face as they seek to complete their degrees and achieve their goals.

Students who don’t have the support of family or peers who attended college typically need more help navigating uncharted waters. They may experience doubts and not realize that many students are in the same boat. They may assume falsely that perhaps college isn’t for them. So they give up.

To that end, we offer mentoring support whenever possible, which includes pairing Hispanic first-time college students with a Hispanic peer mentor. We also produce bilingual parent/family newsletters that are focused on supporting first-time students and helping them to navigate Rutgers–Camden systems.

Among other pioneering academic initiatives, we recently established a support group for male-identifying Latinx students. The goals of this initiative are to strengthen these students’ academic and social integration, increase retention and graduation rates, increase socially and culturally relevant activities for them, and strengthen and develop their leadership abilities.

We’ve also focused on reducing and eliminating debt for students. The percentage of Hispanic students at Rutgers–Camden from low-income households – with adjusted gross incomes of less than $60,000 – was 64.7% in fall 2020, compared to 51.2% for all students. Moreover, 91.4% of our Hispanic students sought financial aid, compared to 86.4% of the total student population.

In fall 2015, Rutgers University–Camden launched Bridging the Gap, a bold financial support program that transforms access to a Rutgers degree by helping New Jersey families dramatically reduce their college costs, covering tuition in full or by half. This groundbreaking program, which works by closing the gap between federal and state financial aid and the balance of tuition, has already offered nearly 900 students a pathway to a world-class Rutgers degree in South Jersey.

Rutgers–Camden students also benefit immeasurably from our unwavering commitment to champion equity, diversity, and inclusion in all campus activities, and to teach students how to cultivate a more inclusive outlook and society. Diversity isn’t just meant to be practiced, but to be celebrated. Stroll through our campus center in the fall and you will hear the music and discussions, smell and taste the foods, and take in the sights of our Hispanic Heritage Month celebration.

This commitment to a diverse and inclusive campus begins with offering safe spaces where students can feel comfortable in all their forms of expression, even when they are at their most vulnerable. A testament to this approach is “Voices of Immigration,” an interdisciplinary podcast created for and by Rutgers–Camden students to share the experiences of various generations of immigrants. For some students that has meant breaking their silence, transforming what were once difficult conversations into empowering experiences.

At their core, all of these initiatives are about overcoming barriers for students who thought that a higher degree was inaccessible, too expensive, or not meant for someone who looked or spoke like them. Without any one of these initiatives, students may have decided not to finish their degrees, while many more may have never even started.

Simply put, we believe that the weight of fear, uncertainty, and doubt should never outweigh the promise and opportunities that a Rutgers–Camden degree has to offer. 

Author bio: Antonio D. Tillis, a noted higher education leader, became chancellor of Rutgers University–Camden on July 1, 2021. Fluent in Spanish and Portuguese, he is a distinguished scholar in the field of Afro-Hispanic studies.

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