Thursday, Sep 9, 2021
Funds will help address health crisis’ effect on underrepresented and low-income students
by Diane Cornell
Rider University is the recipient of a $500,000 Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund II Opportunity Meets Innovation Challenge Grant to provide essential support to underrepresented and low-income students impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Administered by the New Jersey Office of the Secretary of Higher Education and the United States Department of Education, the grant to Rider was among 35 awarded to New Jersey institutions — representing an overall $28.5 million federal package. The funds are designed to address the impact of COVID-19 on postsecondary students, a population that was among the hardest hit by the pandemic, with a focus on those who are historically disadvantaged.
Rider will use the award to support a new comprehensive initiative titled Project Inclusion-Equity-Retention, or PIER, that seeks to promote a safe and inclusive learning environment that focuses on supporting underrepresented students. PIER will be jointly overseen by Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. DonnaJean Fredeen and Vice President for Student Affairs Dr. Leanna Fenneberg.
“We could not be more pleased to have been awarded this grant,” says Fredeen. “Given the challenges many of our students faced throughout the pandemic, we feel particularly well-positioned to integrate strategies, trainings and programs that will directly impact our students, particularly those who have been traditionally under-resourced.”
Over the last several years, the diversification of Rider’s student body has been steadily growing. Overall, 40% of Rider’s students can be classified as underrepresented. In addition, 27% are first generation to college and 35% come from low-income families. Last year, 52% of first-year students identified as students of color and/or Hispanic.
“This funding will help advance Rider’s culture as a community that fully embraces and supports students of all identities, helping to underscore the University’s efforts to ensure that everyone has an equal pathway to success,” says Fenneberg.
PIER’s efforts to promote a safe and inclusive learning environment ultimately supports student retention as well as student success — important factors in ensuring that underrepresented and under-resourced students are able to complete their degrees.
Since the start of the pandemic, the University has seen a sharp increase in student financial aid appeals and has provided almost $147 million in institutional aid and $600,000 in donor-generated emergency funds and grants (in addition to CARES act support), as well as waiving more than $560,000 in late fees, student fees and distance-learning fees. The University additionally initiated a student emergency relief fund and received more than 100 requests for laptop loaners for remote learning.
The grant-funded PIER initiative will be used to assure a more inclusive campus through:
- Diversity training and professional development for faculty and staff
- A new comprehensive training initiative to expand peer and non-peer mentoring opportunities
- A a campus-wide diversity, equity and inclusion climate survey to identify areas of improvement and create actionable steps
- An expansion of student mental health services, and
- A contribution that supports the loaning of materials such as laptops, mini-fridges and microwaves to under-resourced students, a need that was revealed by the pandemic.
These initiatives will add to the many programs, resources and services that help promote a safe and inclusive learning environment at Rider. More information about Rider’s actionable commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion is detailed in its Inclusive Excellence Plan.