Rutgers-Newark recently hosted a Spring Reveal for the new residence/academic building that will be dedicated to its Honors Living Learning Community this fall. A formal dedication ceremony will take place in mid October. I had the opportunity to attend the Reveal through the Rutgers Alumni Association. I took a few pictures to make a Pinterest page, adding a few photos of the Rutgers-Newark campus.

As full disclosure, I worked in Newark for eight years, was involved in the city’s economic development for six, and attended business school on this campus. But my professional and academic relationships with the city ended over two decades ago. The Newark where I was last employed in 1992 is very different in some ways from the one that I visited in 2019.

University Heights, the neighborhood that is host to Rutgers-Newark and the New Jersey Institute of Technology is more residential. Its home to over 13,000 full-time undergraduates, over 3,000 living on both campuses while others commute or live close by. Downtown Newark has a Whole Foods, a Nike Store, the Prudential Arena, a rail link and the state’s premier performing arts center. It’s always had very good transit connections, especially into Hoboken and New York City. You can also walk past Penn Station-Newark and check out some of the best Portuguese food you will ever eat in the Ironbound neighborhood.

But Downtown Newark is still like a smile with  bad teeth that need fixing. To get from the good stuff on campus to other good stuff around the downtown you have to walk through unkempt, unsafe spaces. If you’re in a car you’ll work your way through some serious traffic congestion at rush hour as I did to get to the Reveal. While the colleges illuminate their campuses brightly, the downtown could be better lit, especially for a rainy night.

But thankfully, Rutgers-Newark is building a very attractive honors academic and residential building that will enhance the visual appearance of University Heights and help the university to become a better citizen of the city. 

Rutgers-Newark launched the Honors Living Learning Community (HLLC) in 2015 around the themes of leadership and social justice. The HLLC curriculum is built three required core courses, three special topics electives and a capstone. All of the students in the community complete their chosen major as well as a required Social Justice minor. HLLC students have been living on campus but not in their own residence since the community was founded. They were assigned in groups to live in suites within university housing.  

Aside from the themes of leadership and social justice, the Rutgers-Newark HLLC is quite different from the honors colleges that you will find at other public schools:

  • Admission to the HLLC is not tied to transcripts and standardized test scores although both are required to be considered for admission to the university
  • Students apply by submitting an initial essay as they might for other honors colleges. But admissions for the HLLC have a more rigorous screening process that involves group and individual interviews as well as a second essay. 
  • Students are considered for their leadership potential, academics, career readiness and promise for service to Newark and the surrounding communities. Those who have grown up in the area have an advantage, but they have to sell themselves as worthy of admission.  
  • The HLLC reserves 50 seats for first-year students, but also 30 for transfer students from other schools, including community colleges. Non-traditional students returning to school full-time after working full-time are also considered, and have been admitted. 
  • Approximately half of the admitted students for the HLLC come from Newark, the rest are likely to come from communities nearby. Everyone lives on campus—they receive a full ride to cover tuition and fees, room and board—which helps to bond the students socially and for study groups. 

The unique approach of the HLLC has been deservedly praised and well documented within the education press by the Atlantic Monthly, the Hechinger Report and the New York Times. I met several students and believed that all of them were deserving of admission. The HLLC’s approach is becoming more popular among students interested in Rutgers-Newark. At the Reveal I learned that there were more than 1,200 applicants for the 80 available seats.

The HLLC is not the only honors college at Rutgers-Newark. The university has had one with merit-based admissions since 1972. It advertises an “innovative and commuter-friendly course schedule  and honors classes, requiring a senior thesis. It invites selected admitted students to apply. Over 1,300 students have graduated from the Honors College since it’s founding. The HLLC has grown at a faster rate that will produce more graduates in less time. The HLLC will also have its own residence and scholarships, thanks to a major gift from the Prudential Foundation.

I did not know that Rutgers-Newark had two honors colleges until I looked it up after attending the Spring Reveal. Nor did I know that the university has learning communities in Social Justice, Health and Business, though the Web pages were outdated with application deadlines from four years ago,  until I looked it up. After I did I became more curious, and wondered:

Can aspects of the Rutgers-Newark curriculum such as the special topics seminars or service projects could be replicated with students who were not in the HLLC?

A freshman class at Rutgers-Newark has approximately 1,300 students, of which 1,200 will not be in the Honors College or the HLLC. Two-thirds live on campus for the freshman year. I would like to believe that the special topics seminars or service projects could be part of everyone’s freshman experience. The same could be true for transfer students. I have seen seminar courses help to get students acclimated to college level work at larger schools. 

Can the university have more Living-Learning experiences like the HLLC? 

If HLLC students have their own residence, and Honors College students also lived there, that should leave room for additional beds in other residence halls for students who would like to live on campus. If more students live on campus, it is quite possible that the university could have more residential learning communities. I would hope to see one specifically for Nursing, since it is a very structured degree program within its own school. Accounting is another structured program that could be supported through living-learning community.

As a Rutgers alumnus who has formerly worked in Newark, I hope that the HLLC works as intended, to provide a new generation of leaders for a city that really needs them. But I also hope that the university can expand these opportunities to more of the student body. There are many deserving students among them. 

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