Rutgers Receives More Than $3 Million in Student COVID Aid and to Fight Hunger

Gina Gohl
Food pantry coordinator Gina Gohl stacks canned goods on shelves in the Newark Food Pantry, pantryRUN, in the Paul Robeson Campus Center in Newark.
Nick Romanenko

The university is among 35 state higher education institutions receiving grants to help populations hardest hit by the pandemic

Rutgers has received more than $3 million in federal funding to help low-income students and those from historically underrepresented communities recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The university is among 35 state higher education institutions receiving $28.5 million in “Opportunity Meets Innovation Challenge (OMIC)” grants to develop system-wide reforms that will stop declining enrollments in populations hardest hit by the pandemic, including low-income students and working-age adults.

“The OMIC grant will enable us to launch new initiatives to improve retention and cultivate research, innovation and talent,” said Rutgers University-Camden Chancellor Antonio D. Tillis. “Research indicates that students who engage in learning experiences outside of the classroom are more successful academically, retained at higher percentages, and more likely to graduate than their classmates. We will track the efficacy of our efforts to make certain that we are delivering the outcomes that our students so richly deserve.” 

The funding includes $1.5 million for Rutgers-Newark, $875,520 for Rutgers-Camden and $638,102 for Rutgers University-New Brunswick. Funding will help boost college completion and ensure a robust pipeline of talent is matched to workforce demands.

The grant money will be used to increase access and eliminate affordability barriers for low-income students, address barriers such as food insecurity and lack of childcare and provide free services that will help first-generation and Pell-eligible students transition from high school to college and virtual to in-person learning. Mental health services for students, peer mentoring programs and supplemental courses, particularly in math, will also be offered to help ensure success.

In addition to the $3 million in federal funding to address the impact of COVID-19, more than $1 million was given to 11 public institutions as part of the state’s Hunger-Free Campus Act signed by Gov. Murphy in 2019. Rutgers-New Brunswick and Rutgers University-Newark will receive almost $200,000 to fight student hunger, leverage more sustainable food solutions, raise awareness of current campus services and continue building strategic partnerships at the local, state and national levels to address food insecurity among students.

“Our designation as a Hunger-Free Campus recognizes that our multifaceted food access efforts have impacted the lives and success of students and that these initiatives should be expanded to support our campus culture of eco-sustainability and sourcing food locally,” said Rutgers-Newark Chancellor Nancy Cantor.

Both campuses, designated as “Hunger-Free Campuses” by the state Office of the Secretary of Higher Education (OSHE), have student food pantries, meal plan donation programs, chancellor-level task forces and other initiatives to help feed students.

“Food insecurity affects far too many university students across New Jersey and the nation,” said Rutgers-New Brunswick Chancellor-Provost Francine Conway. “Our commitment to addressing this issue includes innovative and novel programming to connect our students with the resources they need to succeed and thrive. We are deeply appreciative that the Office of the Secretary of Higher Education recognizes the importance of this issue.”

Salvador Mena, vice chancellor for Student Affairs and chair of the Taskforce on Student Essential Needs at Rutgers-New Brunswick said being recognized again by the secretary of higher education is a testament to what the university has been able to accomplish over the last few years to address issues of food insecurity in New Brunswick.

“The grant will be of tremendous assistance with helping us sustain a number of the initiatives that have made a difference for our students,” Mena said. 

Rutgers has been at forefront of developing programs to address student food insecurity for years.

“This funding will allow us to continue to innovate and evaluate our programming, so we can be sure that we are meeting our students’ needs,” said Cara Cuite, an assistant extension specialist in the Department of Human Ecology in the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences and the principal investigator of Rutgers-New Brunswick’s efforts to support food insecure students. Since 2016, Rutgers-New Brunswick has conducted two surveys of its students to assess basic needs insecurity, including food.

Hend El-Buri, director of the Rutgers-Newark Food Pantry (pantryRUN), says research indicates that students have better academic performance when they are not feeling hungry or stressed about affording food.

“Every student deserves to focus on their studies and their future,’’ said Rutgers-Newark Senior Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Corlisse Thomas. “Food pantries offer students a welcoming and safe environment where their well-being is primary. We are grateful to OSHE and the governor’s office for supporting our efforts to outsmart hunger with innovative programs and solutions for students.”