Rutgers Future Scholars Take Part in First Lady's Higher-Ed Initiative

By Chris Hoenig

As First Lady Michelle Obama ramps up her Reach Higher education initiative, Rutgers Future Scholars is one of the programs getting to demonstrate first-hand the success of inspiring young students to succeed.

Rutgers Future Scholars is one of less than 20 programs invited to the National Summer Learning Day Fair at the U.S. Department of Education in Washington, D.C. The First Lady, as part of her Reach Higher initiative, will tour student demonstrations and deliver remarks at the event on Friday, June 20.

The RFS program offers the promise of a college education to first-generation, low-income and academically promising students from schools in Newark, Camden, New Brunswick and Piscataway—New Jersey cities that are home to Rutgers University campuses, but have underperforming school districts. Each year, 200 middle-school students are selected to enter the program, which uses events, support and mentoring to help inspire the participants to reach for more.

After successfully completing the middle-school and high-school programs, Rutgers Future Scholars graduates have their entire Rutgers University tuition paid for using a combination of scholarships and federal grants.

“This acknowledgment is validation of what continued guidance and hard work will bring—and an inspiring example for our partners of university and school district faculty, students, staff, corporate and foundation friends who play pivotal roles in the scholars lives,” Aramis Gutierrez, Director of Rutgers Future Scholars, told DiversityInc.

DiversityInc CEO Luke Visconti, who a member of Rutgers’ Board of Trustees and Board of Overseers, is a major contributor to the RFS program and DiversityInc is a partner of Rutgers Future Scholars.

“Giving opportunities to children who are economically disadvantaged doesn’t stop at New Jersey’s borders. This program has a huge national potential,” Visconti said.

As of May 2014, RFS has served 1,400 scholars from nearly 110 middle and high schools. While some of its districts have high-school graduation rates as low as 66 percent (the New Jersey state average is 83 percent), Rutgers Future Scholars boasts a 95 percent high-school retention rate and 97 percent graduation rate.

On the four-point grade-point-average scale, RFS participants average a 3.37 high-school GPA, and 96 percent of alumni are attending postsecondary institutions, including Rutgers. Every single member of the program’s class of 2018 has already earned college credits.

The First Lady’s Reach Higher initiative is designed to inspire and empower students to take their education beyond high school—whether that means attending a professional trade program, a community college, or a four-year college or university—with the ultimate goal of returning, by 2020, the United States to the top spot internationally among countries with the highest proportion of college graduates.

“Education is the key to success for so many kids,” the First Lady said at a program event in January. “And my goal specifically is to reach out directly to young people and encourage them to take charge of their futures and complete an education beyond high school.”

Learn more about the Reach Higher initiative in the video below:

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