The University of Diversity
From its early beginnings as New Jersey State Normal School in 1929, New Jersey City University (NJCU) has transformed itself from a small teachers college into a more comprehensive, competitive, and diverse public university. With this history in mind, the University has become a beacon of higher learning for New Jersey’s lifelong learners.
As a magnet for diversity, NJCU provides its students with a rich, multi-cultural learning experience and perspective. This focus on the campus dynamic of diversity harkens back to the lessons learned from the venerable intellectual Henry Adams, who reflected on his education at Harvard by noting how little learning occurred as all students were the same – “boys brought up together under like conditions have nothing to give each other…. their attitude was a law of nature; their judgment beyond appeal, not an act of either intellect or emotion or of will, but a sort of gravitation.”
More recently, the Pew Research Center published The demographic trends shaping American politics in 2016 and beyond – “in an era of head-snapping racial, social, cultural, economic, religious, gender, generational and technological change, Americans are increasingly sorted into think-alike communities that reflect not only their politics but their demographics.”
The diversity of NJCU’s enrollment did not happen by accident. There was a well-defined, planned commitment to reach out and attract a diverse student population. As a result, U.S. News and World Report ranked NJCU as the best public school in New Jersey for ethnic diversity. Impressively, Washington Monthly ranked the University #2 in New Jersey for serving students in need. Beyond its rankings, NJCU has been designated as a top tier Latino serving institution.
By leveraging these several diversity achievements, NJCU won a $5.7 million U.S. Department of Education grant to support the implementation of “a program of interventions intended to increase the number of Hispanic and low-income students attaining degrees in six STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields at the University.”
Uniquely, the University’s diversity initiative draws on the best practices of a progenitor at Queens College. The success of the Queens College initiative reported that a more diverse student body leads to more diverse cultural perspectives and increases proficiency of critical thinking, communications, problem-solving skills, and ultimately student academic and career success.
NJCU can take pride in its support for study abroad programs in places like Japan, Scotland, South Korea, Trinidad, and the United Kingdom. For its part, the University provides support for eligible students through scholarships such as the Global Citizens Scholarships for Study Abroad. At NJCU, more than 100 nations are represented among the ranks of the student body. These students include both dreamers and other newcomers to American soil.
As NJCU continues to grow and evolve, the voices of this diverse student population are becoming key drivers in the University’s future growth and development. Just check out the new West Campus Village that opened in August 2016, consisting of double and single apartments and amenities such as a lounge, community kitchen, game room, multi-purpose classrooms, music practice rooms, outdoor courtyard with open green space, and fitness center – the first building built on NJCU’s West Campus. This collegetown style development on Jersey City’s West Side neighborhood, known as University Place, will create new vibrant venues and sustainable jobs.
Perhaps, most importantly, NJCU students have the lowest debt burden of all public 4-year colleges and universities in New Jersey, which in part earned the University the ranking of one of the Top 10 Best Bang for the Buck schools in the Northeast by Washington Monthly. The debt free program for students from families whose income is 60K or less ensures that students leave NJCU debt free.
Remarkably, in a relatively short period of time, NJCU has leveraged its diversity agenda to become more comprehensive and more rigorous at the same time – a rare combination, because becoming bigger often means losing the soul of the institution – this is not the case at NJCU.
Sue Henderson, president of NJCU, put it nicely this way:
“New Jersey City University thrives in a diverse socio-economic landscape. We are laser-focused on continually evolving our value-proposition to ensure a rigorous and fulfilling college experience to any ambitious, academically-curious, resident of the State. In the face of declining state support and needier students, we are far more entrepreneurial, efficient, creative and nimble in every aspect of our institution.”
—James Martin and James E. Samels are authors of Consolidating Colleges and Merging Universities (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2017). Martin is a professor of English at Mount Ida College (Mass.) and Samels is president and CEO of The Education Alliance.