Ralph Olibrice, a psychology major at Saint Peter’s University , was forced to work a part-time job while taking classes to pay for school.
As Olibrice worried about keeping up with his classes, on top of his job and the pressure from his father to meet the deadlines of the university bills, the EOF program reached its hand out to Olibrice, notifying him of his eligibility for their support services, which include financial aid assistance and academic, professional, and personal coaching.
Without EOF, Olibrice would not be in his junior year of college, but now post COVID-19, the school’s EOF program has been struggling with the minimal outreach it has to current and potential college students, due to a decline in undergraduate college enrollment.
Since joining Saint Peter’s EOF program, Olibrice has quit his part-time job and has been offered certain advantages such as completing the Pre-College Summer Academy, which prepared him for the fall semester of his first year of college.
Enacted in 1968, the Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) is a state-funded, campus-based support service that strives to provide individuals with low economic and educational backgrounds access to college education in New Jersey.
Support services that are provided by EOF consist of counseling, networking, tutoring,developmental coursework, hosting important educational events and more.
When it comes to recruiting for the EOF program, it is mainly the Enrollment Services department and the EOF department of the university or college that are responsible for spreading the word about EOF. Since EOF is also a state-funded program, it has a committee focusing on EOF attending college fairs and reaching out to different communities to inform students about the program.
Only individuals being recruited to join the university’s EOF program are eligible undergraduates attending Saint Peter’s, so a threat to EOF outreach and recruitment is the undergraduate enrollment decline.
“A lot of colleges aren’t seeing the growth in enrollment for the student population in general so that affects EOF because the less students who come to college, the less students we have to recruit from our program,” said Knight Ambubuyog, current ambassador for EOF state-wide anddirector of the EOF program at Saint Peter’s.
According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center’s Stay Informed report, as of September 29, 2022 the preliminary data showed a continuous decline in undergraduate enrollment in the Fall of 2022.
Universities and colleges in the United States experienced a decrease of 1.1 percent in undergraduates from the Fall of 2021 to 2022. This caused a two-year decrease in enrollment of 4.2 percent since this Fall and 2020.
According to data from Saint Peter’s University’s Year I Progress: Beginning to Stem the COVID enrollment erosion report, Saint Peter’s faced a dip in undergraduate enrollment with 284 fewer undergraduates between the Fall of 2020 to 2022, 221 fewer undergraduates between the Fall of 2020 to 2021 and 63 fewer undergraduates between the Fall of 2021 to 2022.
“The pandemic had a big effect on recruiting, that's a challenge overall we’re trying to overcome by continuing to promote the program,” said Director Knight Ambubuyog, who has been in the program as an EOF scholar since 2006 and has been working for the fund professionally since2012. “Not just recruiting from high schools, but looking at community-based organizations and things like that to be able to help to recruit students.”
The pandemic isn’t the only factor making recruitment and outreach challenging.
“College is very expensive, not just at Saint Peter’s but altogether. It is something nationwide that is getting more expensive so a lot of students are asking if it is even worth it for them to go to college, to spend all this money to get a college degree,” said Ambubuyog. “We are aware of this and we work closely with Admissions and are aware at the state level too knowing these challenges we try to adjust so that we are continuing to recruit our class every year.”
Another obstacle in EOF outreach is that not many people know about EOF and those who do aren’t fully aware of all the qualifications, requirements, and services.
“I think one of the things I want to change about EOF outreach is that people think you have to be a freshman to apply to EOF,” said Ambubuyog. “At Saint Peter’s you can apply for EOF even as a sophomore or junior so you can get into our program.”
Although some people’s main reason for applying to an EOF program is for the financial aid they offer, that is not the only reason.
“My main reason for being in the program is to get experience with different individuals, build a network and help other first-year students that are eventually going to be in the same circumstance as me,” said Olibrice. “It has provided me with leadership skills and leadership opportunities as far as being a peer mentor right now and being able to help other first-year students.”
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