Early Engagement of Youth from Underrepresented Populations

Early Engagement of Youth from Underrepresented Populations
Insights from the Rutgers Future Scholars Program

By: Sharon Kelly, Manager, SEM Projects & Strategy

Courtney McAnuff
Courtney McAnuff, Vice Chancellor, Enrolment Management at Rutgers University

In September, the University Admissions & Outreach (UAO) team welcomed Courtney McAnuff, Vice Chancellor, Enrolment Management at Rutgers University, to campus. The purpose of VC McAnuff’s visit was to share his experiences developing the Rutgers Future Scholars Program (RFS) with members of the UAO team and the wider university community, with the goal of informing the development of the University of Toronto Enrichment Academy, a UAO initiative.  

McAnuff is the visionary behind RFS, a multi-year access program which supports first-generation students with low socio-economic status in finishing high school and gaining admission to university. In a lively and engaging talk presented to recruitment and admissions professionals across the tri-campus community – the inaugural SEM Talk, an occasional lecture series aimed at building a campus culture around enrolment management – McAnuff described how the program came to be. When he joined Rutgers in 2006, he was tasked with solving a difficult problem: students from Rutgers’ home cities (Camden, Newark and New Brunswick) lived so close to the Rutgers campuses, but were vastly underrepresented in the student body. Why weren’t they applying?

The answer was that these students experienced a myriad of pressures and obstacles, largely related to poverty and social marginalization, that made it difficult for them to complete high school or earn the academic credentials necessary to be admissible.  Many, as first-generation students, did not consider university to be a viable option for them. With this in mind, McAnuff sketched out a plan to engage these students from an early age, keeping them on a university-bound track. Starting the summer after grade 7, academically promising students were invited to participate in a rigorous program of tutoring, mentoring and college prep. Over the next five years, they engaged in career exploration, took topical courses taught by Rutgers instructors, learned financial literacy, and prepped for the SATs. Those who successfully completed the program and gained admission to Rutgers received a four-year scholarship equal to the cost of tuition and fees. This became the Rutgers Future Scholars Program. Of the first cohort of 183 students, 97% graduated high school and 163 went to university. Now in its 15th year, the program has continued to be a resounding success.  

Paving a Post-Secondary Pathway

Rutgers Future Scholars has served as a valuable blueprint for the University of Toronto Enrichment Academy, which similarly aims to engage historically underrepresented students with pathways to accessing – and succeeding – in postsecondary education. According to Ryan Hargraves, Executive Director, Student Recruitment and Admissions, “there are many factors that influence whether a student is accepted to, and graduates from, university, including programs (or “streams”) of study, absenteeism, special education needs status, suspension rates, and how well they do in their first year of secondary school.”  This past summer, the university welcomed 25 grade 9 students from across the GTA to the St. George campus for a weeklong day camp, as part of the Enrichment Academy’s launch. 

“Developed in consultation with faculty and staff across the university, the Enrichment Academy is informed by a strategic enrolment management approach and offers a comprehensive program designed to mitigate obstacles to high school completion and university enrolment, including learning workshops, access tutoring, and group mentorship.”
Ryan Hargraves
Executive Director, Student Recruitment and Admissions

Community-building through Mentorship

“The mentorship component in programs like the Enrichment Academy and Rutgers Future Scholars is so important,” Hargraves notes. During his talk, McAnuff similarly underscored this, pointing to the significance of instilling a sense of community and belonging in making Rutgers Future Scholars such a success. Rutgers provides a strong network of support for the students, who in turn support and champion each other. Identifying the students as scholars is also critical, leading to a mind shift in the way they perceive their potential. A key part of both programs is addressing doubt related to whether the students “fit in” at university. 

The message is unequivocal: You belong here.