Published June 25, 2019

Written by: Tahjaun Clarke

Former Rutgers Assistance Grants get a boost with a new fundraising effort and a new name: Scarlet Promise Grants

For Sam Adepoju, receiving a Rutgers Assistance Grant meant the difference between a dream deferred and a dream fulfilled. As a first-year student at Rutgers University-Camden, Adepoju was not sure where the money for tuition would come from. His family, who emigrated to the United States from Nigeria in 2000, had limited funds available to help Adepoju pay for college.

“I had no idea how it would work out,” Adepoju recalls. “But I got a Rutgers Assistance Grant, and that prevented a dream deferred. I wouldn’t have been able to go to school without it.” His dream? To go to medical school and become a surgeon.

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Adepoju, who will graduate in 2020, is just one of about 11,000 undergraduate students universitywide who received a Rutgers Assistance Grant in the past year. Beginning in academic year 2020-21, the grants will be known as Scarlet Promise Grants and will be the focus of efforts to raise a $3 million endowment to help support the grants in perpetuity.

The renewed focus on this grant program grew out of two task forces commissioned by Rutgers’ Board of Trustees – the Task Force on Student Aid and the Task Force on Philanthropy. The student aid task force found that a growing number of students are unable to complete their degrees because of limited resources, while others can graduate but leave college saddled with significant debt.

As a result, the board is undertaking several initiatives to address these financial challenges and to seek more significant private support for need-based grants and scholarships. For instance, the trustees agreed to establish an annual Trustee Challenge in support of need-based aid, with three trustees kicking off the challenge by making gifts of $100,000 each to support a new Scarlet Promise Grants endowment. Going forward, the board and Rutgers University Foundation will work to raise $3 million for the endowment within 10 years.

The trustee gifts, announced at the board’s meeting on June 20, were made by Mary DiMartino DC’85, chair of the board until June 30, 2019, and her husband, Victor DiMartino CC’82; James Dougherty RC’74, GSNB’75, vice-chair of the board; and philanthropy task force chair Ken Johnson ENG’66 and his wife, Jackie Johnson. DiMartino, Dougherty, and Johnson join other trustees who have made leadership gifts to a variety of university causes that speak to their deep commitment to Rutgers.

As the first in their families to go to college, DiMartino and her husband understood the sacrifices others made to help them achieve their dreams. “We were thinking of ways to give back,” she says, “and that coincided with the work the Board of Trustees was doing to address student financial need. It’s humbling and exciting to know that we’ve benefited from the support and generosity of others, and now it’s our turn to give back and help others as they pursue their dreams of a college education.”

Dougherty, a longtime donor to Rutgers and member of the board’s philanthropy task force, says he decided to make his gift in support of the Scarlet Promise Grants to help more students afford a Rutgers education and to express his appreciation for his own experience at Rutgers.

“As an undergraduate, I received many forms of need-based aid and scholarships, including the Educational Opportunity Fund grant,” Dougherty says. “Not having debt from my undergraduate years enabled me to go on to veterinary school, start a practice 33 years ago, and become successful to the point where I can pay this back to other students at Rutgers who find themselves in similar situations.”

Moreover, by helping students in need of financial assistance complete their studies, Dougherty says, the university is cultivating individuals who will have a positive impact in New Jersey and around the globe.

Ken Johnson, who chaired the board’s Task Force on Philanthropy, said the findings of the student aid task force heightened his awareness of the tremendous need for more financial assistance. He added that he and his wife wanted to be among the first to make a leadership gift toward the grants as a means to inspire others to give.

“The need for student financial aid is enormous,” he said, “and we hope our support will allow more students to pursue a Rutgers education, which is far more valuable than its actual cost.”

To encourage other donors to give toward Scarlet Promise Grants, Rutgers University Foundation will designate need-based aid as a top fundraising priority.

“Providing talented students, regardless of their means, with access to higher education is a hallmark of the world’s best colleges and universities,” says Nevin E. Kessler, president, Rutgers University Foundation, and executive vice president, development and alumni engagement.

“Making higher education affordable is an issue of national importance, and aligns with the first part of Rutgers’ mission: to provide for the instructional needs of New Jersey’s citizens through its undergraduate, graduate, and continuing education programs,” he adds. “Scarlet Promise Grants open the door to higher education for bright students who might not otherwise be able to attend Rutgers.”

About 75 percent of Rutgers undergraduates receive some financial aid; about 25 percent receive Rutgers Assistance Grants, which were created in the 1990s to bridge a gap between the amount provided by the New Jersey Tuition Aid Grant and the cost of tuition. The Rutgers grants are designed to help the university’s students continue to be students, says Jean McDonald-Rash, associate vice president for enrollment services at Rutgers.

“Rutgers grants are important in a number of ways,” McDonald-Rash says. “State and federal grants may cover tuition but not other student expenses, such as room, board, and books, so Rutgers grants can help with those, as well as with tuition.” The grants are especially helpful for students who face a life-changing event, such as the loss of a parent or a job, she adds.

Originally posted on Rutgers Today, Published June 2019

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