This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF), a bold state initiative to close the gap in economic, racial, and social inequities in higher education. It was initiated in 1968 by then-assemblyman Tom Kean and underscored by members of the Black Organization of Students demanding changes following their 1969 nonviolent takeover of Conklin Hall at Rutgers University–Newark (there were protests at Rutgers University–New Brunswick and Rutgers University–Camden, too, over the lack of African-American students and faculty at the university). The groundbreaking legislation has dramatically increased enrollment of low-income, first-generation, and historically underrepresented students at New Jersey’s colleges and universities. In supporting the largest EOF program in the state and promoting accessibility and equity, Rutgers has graduated more than 20,000 EOF students since the program began. The success has come from not only financial support, but also intensive academic advising, college planning, and mentoring. Its life-changing impact on so many graduates’ lives has led to a network of active alumni helping those following in their footsteps, among them James H. Whitney III RC’02, SSW’05, GSE’16. His mother died when he was 11 and he witnessed his father’s struggles with drug and alcohol addiction after serving in the military, yet Whitney, with the help of his older sister, was the first in his family to attend college and earned three Rutgers degrees. Today, he is the assistant vice chancellor for undergraduate academic affairs at Rutgers–New Brunswick. One of his responsibilities? Overseeing Student Access and Educational Equity, which administers portions of the Rutgers EOF program.

Read about another successful program for underrepresented students that turned 50 recently, the Minority Student Program at Rutgers Law School.