Published September 23, 2020

By Evan Grossman

Scarlet Promise Grants help students continue to be students.

COVID-19 has made a much deeper mark on education than forcing students and teachers online and disrupting extracurricular activities across campus. The pandemic’s economic tentacles have also increased the number of students and families who aren’t able to cover college costs. And for students preparing to begin college, illness or loss of family income changes everything.

“A lot of people I know personally are not able to pay for tuition or pay for their books,” says Rutgers senior Raisha Monga. She’s concerned about one friend, in particular.

“She’s a full-time college student and financially she’s in the same situation as I am, living off campus, and she doesn’t know how she’s going to go to school because she doesn’t have the money,” Monga says. “Paying for college during COVID is much harder because it’s so difficult to get a job.”

Tough times demand real solutions. In summer 2020, the university announced a one-year tuition freeze and fee reduction, and launched or amplified a variety of student assistance programs. Central to these efforts are Scarlet Promise Grants, which help students like Monga. Last year, Scarlet Promise Grants provided financial assistance to 11,000 students, allowing them to attend Rutgers and pursue the careers of their dreams. These grants provide need-based financial aid and close the gaps that some financial aid programs leave for expenses like books, housing, and tuition. At Rutgers, those gaps can represent as much as $10,000 in unmet financial need per student, a total of more than $100 million last year.

Launched in 1991 as Rutgers Assistance Grants, Scarlet Promise Grants are awarded in amounts between $500 and $5,000 per academic year as part of qualified students’ financial aid packages and for emergency support for reasons ranging from the death of a parent to job loss to health emergencies.

The COVID-19 pandemic and economic downturn place even more importance on these kinds of financial assistance programs. Recognizing this, Rutgers University President Jonathan Holloway made supporting the program a priority, pledging to raise $10 million and making a personal donation of $75,000. Just one month after Holloway’s announcement, the Scarlet Promise Grants program has received over $3 million in philanthropic support, including a $1 million gift from Mark Angelson, chair of the Rutgers Board of Governors, who said, “These times of unprecedented struggle and uncertainty demand a public commitment by those of us who have benefitted from all that Rutgers has to offer.”

When announcing the $10 million focused campaign, Holloway said, “Rarely has affordable access to higher education been more essential. This is critical work for us. Many current and prospective Rutgers students and their families have suffered tremendous financial setbacks in recent months. This program already transforms lives, and it has the potential to transform many more.”

Indeed, Scarlet Promise Grants are typically awarded to students with a family income of $60,000 or less—students such as Susan Badia, who grew up in New Brunswick, New Jersey, in the university’s shadow, and dreamed of going away to college. “I wanted to go far away. It wasn’t until junior year of high school when I saw the benefits of Rutgers and started weighing the costs.”

Her dreams of making her mark on Wall Street, mixed with her maturing financial sensibilities, kept Badia in New Brunswick when it came time to decide. Forced to move back home amid the pandemic, Badia now calls staying local “the best decision that I never wanted to make.”

Badia said financial aid packages offered her a lot of help, but it wasn’t enough to cover all the bills she faced. A junior finance major, she’s on top of her bills and tuition and thought she’d left no stone unturned investigating all the aid that was available to her. But when she discovered Scarlet Promise Grants, she says it was a game-changer.

“I ended up having fewer loans this year—my sophomore year—than I did my freshman year,” she says. “I could financially feel the difference.”

More impactful than the difference she felt in her checkbook, Badia says, was that the program made her feel like the university had her back and treated her with dignity.

“Once I told my mom and I realized this grant was targeted to students like me, I felt like I was seen,” she says. “It felt like I didn’t have to explain my sob story to everyone who could lend a hand. I didn’t have to tell the financial aid counselor, ‘Oh my god, my mom is the only provider in the house’ … I didn’t have to do all that.”

“They knew the situation and she was able to assist me in getting the grant and making me more aware of it. I just felt cared for.”