Talent development starts in the trenches, says Rutgers University’s Courtney McAnuff, who grew up in a low-income neighborhood. He has dedicated his career to preparing a more diverse future workforce through higher education and has expanded those goals to reach students at the high-school level. The heart of what he does is the Rutgers Future Scholars program.
An Ambitious Proposal
When the vice president for enrollment management at Rutgers University first presented his proposal for the Rutgers Future Scholars program to Rutgers Chairman Rev. Dr. M. William Howard Jr. and President Richard McCormick, he didn’t think it would ever get approved. “It was so expensive and ambitious,” recalls McAnuff. (Costs approached $2 million in 2011.) “But it only took them 15 minutes to review it and give the go-ahead.”
The Rutgers Future Scholars program, now in its fourth year, was designed to resolve an existing lack of urban-based students from lower-income families from Rutgers’ surrounding locales. Each year, 200 seventh-grade students are selected into the five-year college-prep program from the New Brunswick, Piscataway, Newark and Camden communities.
The students are supported with tutoring and mentoring and are given opportunities to attend educational events on campus to increase their exposure to the opportunities a college education can deliver. Graduating scholars who are accepted to Rutgers University are granted a full scholarship.
The program receives funding from multiple partners, which include DiversityInc and Merck & Co. (No. 16 in The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity), AT&T (No. 4), Target (No. 30) and Ernst & Young (No. 6). Additionally, DiversityInc CEO Luke Visconti is co-chair of the Rutgers Future Scholars fundraising committee.
Watch our diversity web seminar on recruitment and read Rutgers Future Scholars Enhances Talent Pipelines With Corporate-Student Outreach for more on Ernst & Young’s partnership with Rutgers Future Scholars. Also read How to Get 150 Top-Performing Black and Latino Candidates Now for more more on recruitment.
Talent Development: A Blueprint for the Future
The ultimate goal, says McAnuff, is to increase graduation rates, which in turn will foster improvements within state and local governments. He cites that about half the Black and Latino boys in urban areas who drop out of high school often end up in the correctional system; an economic study on Rutgers Future Scholars estimates that every group of scholars that completes the program will save the state $40 million over the course of the students’ lifetime. Read the study at www.DiversityInc.com/RFSvalue.
“I do hope that one day we can make the argument to state and federal governments that we can demonstrate with results,” McAnuff says. “Because of our experience, we can actually write a national blueprint that is relatively inexpensive, where we can spend $2,000 a year per kid rather than $45,000 for someone in prison.”
Even though the oldest group of students is still in the junior year of high school, the program has already had amazing results: Of the more than 800 students in the program, 80 percent have maintained a B or better grade average, and 180 students report that they plan to apply to Rutgers in September.
“One argument in higher education is if you are open to more low-income or more diverse students, you are lowering academic standards,” says McAnuff. “At Rutgers, we’ve proven that incorrect.” He adds, “I’m happy to say after four years that none of the kids in the program has dropped out of high school.”
Nurturing Intellect Through Talent Development
While an interest in higher education and helping students realize success is something McAnuff fell in love with during his early career as a teacher, his passion for providing those opportunities for low-income students stems from his childhood growing up in Queens, N.Y.
“There was no middle ground: You went to college or you went to jail,” says McAnuff. “My next-door neighbor was my best friend until the third year of high school. He became a drug addict.”
He adds, “If you have intellect, you have a chance here. I want to make sure as many kids as possible have the opportunity to try.”
Competing against tough neighborhood environments proves to be one of the programs’ and scholars’ greatest challenges, says McAnuff. “I was really surprised how the deans jumped on board so wholeheartedly,” he says. “Many students are now graduating high school, many with college credit, which was unheard of before. The kids believe they can do it now.”
For more on talent development and diversity in education, read Talent Development: From Migrant Workers’ Son to CEO and Sam’s Club Gives Latino Students $100,000 in Scholarships.