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The New Jersey Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) is one of the nation's most comprehensive and successful state-supported efforts to provide access to higher education for disadvantaged students. EOF is a collaborative effort between the EOF Board of Directors, which administers the program, and the state's colleges and universities, which recruit and directly serve the students. Board members, who are appointed by the Governor, set policy, approve all necessary regulations for the program's operation, develop the annual budget request for the statewide program, and support EOF programs at New Jersey public and independent colleges and universities. The EOF Board also oversees a small graduate grant program, as well as the C. Clyde Ferguson Law and the Martin Luther King Physician-Dentist Scholarships.
The program has been successful in providing access and opportunity for students from the state's most distressed municipalities. Moreover, EOF has proven to be a valuable seedbed for educational innovations that have found broad applicability in the larger higher education community. EOF has also been a leader in increasing diversity in New Jersey's institutions of higher education.
The state has experienced major demographic, economic, and social changes since the program's inception. Foremost has been a global economic restructuring that has contributed to a significant decline of the state's manufacturing base and the almost total shift of new employment from the state's urban cores to the suburbs and emerging fringe communities. New Jersey has joined the developing global marketplace fueled by an information technology revolution and the concomitant growth of service industries no longer tied to the urban areas of the state.
In this new environment higher education access and opportunity are even more critical than at the program's inception in 1968. The completion of a higher education is increasingly the dividing line between those individuals, families, and communities that are experiencing the benefits of the new economy and those who are being left behind. EOF assumes a more important public policy role as a bridge to the new economy for those who remain in communities that have not participated in the economic and social transformation of the past decade.
During the 1996/97 academic year, the Board, working in collaboration with key stakeholders, engaged in a planning process to explore how the program should best respond to the state's changing economic, educational, and social conditions. The dialogue examined the critical issues facing the EOF program and how we can work with the higher education community in the development of a "shared vision" and an expanded mission for the EOF program--under the guiding principles of promoting access, enhancing quality, and maintaining accountability.
The following report is issued in accordance with the Board's responsibility to inform the Commission on Higher Education, the Governor, and the Legislature about the status and progress of the Fund as well as the key issues and challenges facing EOF, how the Fund contributes to the well-being of the state, and the Board's long-term vision and priorities.
Over the past decade, the Fund has been challenged to provide access and successful outcomes for a population of students that is relatively poorer in comparison to the state's general population, and increasingly isolated from the incredible economic opportunities and changes that have occurred in the rest of the state. Despite these challenges, the Fund continues to provide access and opportunity to students from the state's most distressed communities and has achieved significant gains in short-term retention.
Key findings and recommendations include: