More incoming freshmen can ‘Start Smart’ at RCSJ

School scholarship program expands to help students during pandemic

One hundred recent Gloucester County high school graduates planning to attend Rowan College of South Jersey this fall are about to get an assist in paying their tuition.

The Rowan College Foundation at Gloucester County and the RCSJ Board of Trustees have announced an expansion of the Presidential Start Smart Scholarship program.  The two entities are teaming to provide an additional $100,000, allowing 100 incoming freshmen to each receive a $1,000 scholarship.

Foundation Director Cody Miller said the decision to expand the program was an easy one with the COVID-19 pandemic causing many families to struggle with finances and look toward more affordable solutions for higher education.

“We’re going to make an even larger investment in our students, because we know more families are going to turn to the community colleges,” Miller said.

The Presidential Start Smart Scholarship program originated in 2012, after the New Jersey Student Tuition Assistance Reward Scholarship (NJ STARS)  program was changed to have only students in the top 15 percent of their high school graduating class become eligible for money.  Prior to the changes, scholarships were offered to students who finished in the top 20 percent.

Start Smart filled the void, providing Gloucester County students who fell just outside the top 15 percent with a $1,000 scholarship when they enroll as a full-time student at Rowan College of South Jersey. A formula including class rank and population is used to automatically award the scholarships, as the foundation works with local high school guidance counselors to get a list of students enrolling at RCSJ. A total of $140,000 worth of scholarships was initially awarded, with the foundation paying 75 percent of the cost and the RCSJ Board of Trustees 25 percent.

With COVID-19 causing a wealth of financial issues for businesses and families, Miller began to receive a lot of requests for the foundation to provide assistance to students this year. Those same requests were heard at the board of trustees level and prompted RCSJ President Frederick Keating to reach out to Miller about expanding Start Smart.

“We wanted to find a way to assist our students,” Miller noted. “We know they’re struggling, we know COVID is an unprecedented crisis in our country and we know more students will turn to the community college.”

An additional $100,000 in funds for Start Smart will allow the Rowan foundation to award scholarships to students who rank in  the top 25 percent of their graduating class. Scholarships will continue to be $1,000 per student.

“Dr. Keating was a huge advocate for this and our foundation board was a huge advocate for this,” Miller said.

“We’re not just going to sit on (the foundation’s) money,” he continued. “We have it there, we’re going to spend it, we need to provide assistance for our students.”

Rowan College Foundation at Gloucester County is a 501c3 nonprofit organization reliant on fundraisers and donations to keep its scholarship programs funded each year. More than $850,000 in scholarships is awarded through the foundation each year. Some of the its fundraisers include an  annual gala, the Roadrunner Golf Classic and the Miles for Mile 5K.

“We probably raise upward of over $100,000 per year in donations from people,” Miller said in describing the foundation’s revenue generators. “We also do grants. We have private donors who give consistently.”

Miller knows first hand how important the expansion of the scholarship program is. After graduating from Williamstown High School in 2009 during an economic recession, Miller opted to start his college career at RCSJ, then known as Gloucester County College, to ease the financial burden on himself and his family. He credits RCSJ for getting his educational career off on the right foot, and the school’s affordability helped him later earn a bachelor’s and master’s degree at Rutgers. In addition to his work with the foundation, Miller is also a council member in Monroe Township.

“I think that more families are going to choose the community college route,” Miller predicted. “With the fact that families are struggling and trying to find ways to afford to get by, this is a way for us to say, ‘We’re here.’”

Anyone interested in donating to the foundation or receiving more information can contact Miller at cmille27@rcsj.edu.