State to increase funding for EOF program after four years

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By: Sade Cox

The state’s Exceptional Educational Opportunities (EEO)/Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) program, which benefits some 700 Kean University students, is expected to get an increase in aid next year after four years of flat funding.

Overall, Gov. Chris Christie’s proposed budget also puts $2.3 billion toward higher education, an increase of 7 percent.

The Education Opportunity Fund (EOF) program received an increase of $1.565 million which was added by the legislature and left intact by the governor.

“This is our first increase in years as EOF has been level funded for years. Every year EOF students and staff advocate on behalf of the program to preserve or increase funding. This year we were finally successful in getting additional funding,” Robert Melendez said, the Director of EOF at Union County College.

Kean’s EOF program has approximately 700 students.

EOF is New Jersey’s only state supported government program serving low-income, first generation students, at the undergraduate, graduate, and professional school levels. Annually, EOF program provides access to higher education to 12,500 students through financial assistance, as well as by providing academic, career, and social development support programs.

“Through advocacy efforts of EOF students and staff, all EOF programs statewide receive a 5.26% increase for this year for EOF financial aid grants and program support,” Melendez said.

New Jersey’s EOF students rallied in Trenton in June to have the grant increase. EOF students from various universities colleges, and county colleges joined together to protest in front of the Statehouse in Trenton, to not only get more funding for EOF, and to also get legislatures to sign a bill named NJ H.E.L.P: New Jersey Higher Education Legislative Package. This package includes a budget appropriation to expand the Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) by 1.9 million, restoring the fund to its 2008 budget.

Lateefa Cox mathematical science major, senior, belongs to the EOF program and is grateful that the increase has been approved for the EOF program.

“The increase in Equal Opportunity Funding will be assisting me in furthering my endeavors to reach my goal in graduating in May 2015. The increase in the funding will help me with tuition, purchasing books, and other school expenses,” Cox said. “The increase in funding will allow part-time students to become full-time students, because will ease students worrying about working to pay for their tuition, and they can become fully involved on campus.”

In 2010, Gov. Christie’s proposed budget includes an 8.7% cut of  $3.6 million cut to the Educational Opportunity Fund’s fiscal year 2011 Budget to the program statewide. EOF students wrote and emailed letters to their legislative representatives in their counties, asking to oppose any proposed budget cuts to EOF Program. The cut would reduce the amount of funding statewide from $41.2 million to 37.5 million.

Due to complaints from the students in 2011, Gov. Christie didn’t cut the EOF budget.

According to Alan Guenther, Office of the Secretary of Higher Education in Trenton said, “Kean University’s EOF program received $1,770,394 last year $1,792,729 this year.”

“The EOF students didn’t receive funding for the Fall 2014 academic year,” said Rosa Perez-Maldonado, Kean University’s EOF program director.

The secretary of Higher Education was asked why Kean’s EOF students didn’t receive funding for the Fall 2014 semester; Guenther said “Not true. Funding was increased. Talk to Kean’s EOF director. The campus EOF director decided how to allocate Kean’s increased funding.”

Audrey Bennerson, the statewide EOF director of New Jersey Office of the Secretary of Higher Education/EOF Program said, “Kean University did not receive a reduction in their fiscal year 2015 EOF grant allocation. The New Jersey Office of the Secretary of Higher Education’s EOF Office does not determine which students will receive EOF student grant funding.  That is an institutional decision.”

Currently, 12.5% of first time and full – time freshmen who enter New Jersey state colleges and universities each fall are EOF students.

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