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Raising the Bar
Growth and progress abound at local institutions of higher education.

by Amanda Hamm Hengel

It was Benjamin Franklin who once said, “Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.”

Though his words were relevant in his time, nowhere are his words more relevant today than in higher education.

In fact, unless you’ve had a reason to keep a finger on the pulse of higher education these days, the growth and progress that has been taking place may surprise you.

Between the partnerships that are being formed, the expansions that are being completed and the programs that are being added, there’s never been a better time to look into all that higher education has to offer.

Embracing Expansion
Perhaps one of the biggest changes that has been taking place in higher education is the partnerships between community colleges and universities. These partnerships have allowed students at the community colleges to take advantage of not only the associate degree offerings at the smaller schools but also the bachelor degree programs at the larger universities. And it’s only getting easier.

In January 2017, Rowan College at Burlington County (RCBC) began offering junior-year courses. By offering the courses, students can now stay on the local campus they’ve come to know for an additional year before moving on for their bachelor’s degree.

“The third year being offered was critical,” says RCBC President Dr. Michael A. Cioce. “It’s an opportunity to study for the third year at the community college price, which from an affordability perspective is a game-changer for students, parents and everyone in between. …To not have to transfer but to save tuition and other fees during the third year, and to not have to give up three years of familiarity, that’s huge, whether you’re 18 or 58.”

By this May, the program, known as 3+1, will have saved nearly 100 graduates more than $3.3 million in tuition, according to representatives from RCBC and Rowan University.

Additionally, three new courses are being added to the program—electrical engineering technology and mechanical engineering technology, as well as communications—so in total 10 bachelor programs will be available via this track, according to Cioce.

“As long as there is supply and demand on the student side, we will continue to grow our portfolio of offerings,” he adds. “RCBC currently offers 70-plus associates degrees and now 10 that offer on-site bachelor degree completion.”

In a press release regarding the addition of the engineering programs, Rowan President Dr. Ali Houshmand says the new offerings meet workforce demand in the community.

“Rowan has made a commitment to develop novel pathways and create educational opportunities for our state and region that strengthen our economy,” he says. “The engineering technology programs illustrate what is possible when partners come to the table to do the hard work of reforming our education system.”

Rowan College at Gloucester County—which will soon become Rowan College of South Jersey, following a merger with Cumberland County College—also offers the 3+1 program and will be adding to it this fall. The new programs will include inclusive education, which will allow students to earn both elementary and special education certifications for less than $30,000, according to officials from the school, along with exercise science, a program for students interested in pursuing careers in health/medical promotion and fitness management.

Both schools also have construction projects in the works, including an enhancement of the current Cumberland County College’s engineering technology program through the creation of a 6,357-square-foot Mechatronics Innovation Learning Lab (MILL). The first tier of the expansion project is expected to be ready for the fall of 2019, and when completed will include a drone training course, a high-definition CAD/CAM computer lab, and more.

At Camden County College, where partnerships with Rutgers University, Wilmington University and Fairleigh Dickinson University offer students access to bachelors and masters’ degree programs, a new cybersecurity program—designed to provide an affordable path toward a career in the fast-growing cybersecurity field—is being added. Representatives from the school say the curriculum is built for both established professionals and those just starting out in an IT career, and can be utilized either directly after graduating or as a stepping-stone to a four-year degree.

Additions are also coming to Salem County this fall, when Salem Community College will open the Sam and Jean Jones Glass Education Center, a $3.4 million, 20,000-square-foot facility that will be home to SCC’s programs in scientific glass technology and glass art.

Focus on Health, Wellness and Personal Development
It is obvious the focus on community health care and personal wellness continues to increase and local higher institutions of education are taking notice.

In fact, at Monmouth University, an institute for health and wellness has been in the planning stages for several years and is finally taking off, serving as a forum for education, research and collaboration on issues of human health and wellness.

Belinda Anderson, its founding director, is a federally funded investigator on projects related to education and promoting health and wellness and says she is anxious to see this program reach its full potential.

“We’ve fleshed out a lot of ideas in the last six months and now it’s about deciding which ones look the most favorable and starting to prioritize and focus on specific ideas and properly access how to fund these projects,” she says.

One potential project is a Monmouth-established retirement community, which Anderson says about 20 universities in the country have already successfully done and thus provide a model for.

“The hope is that the living facilities would be less than a mile from the [Monmouth] campus so the retirees would have access to the education and arts and humanities events that happen on campus,” she says. “Studies suggest the two loneliest groups of people are college-age undergrads and those that are 65-plus. We would hope this program would encourage relationship building and mentoring and this would go a long way to address loneliness and mental health issues.”

It would also provide an opportunity for faculty and students to engage in clinical-based activities, she adds, and if a partnership with a health care center were added, even more services would be available to both patients and school affiliates.

In a similar realm, Stockton University, whose continuing studies office coordinates many seminars and workshops provided by local experts in the business community, now offers a seminar on retirement planning that is popular.

“We have a lot of retirees in this area,” says Mariah Duffey, assistant director of the Stockton University office of continuing studies. “The course provides them with a workbook that helps them not just plan for retirement, but also look at estate planning, how they are managing their retirement funds, and if they might need to set new goals or adjust.”

More untraditionally, but also just as relevant in this day and age, last fall Stockton also began offering a degree in cannabis, focusing on its history, regulatory laws and medical marijuana. School representatives say it will also begin offering a new online, non-credit cannabis studies certificate geared toward those interested in joining the cannabis industry.

And finally, a collaboration that partners Rowan with Rutgers—Camden and Camden County College will bring a Joint Health Sciences Center to downtown Camden, where a 125,000-square-foot facility will serve as an advanced research and health sciences education and training facility.

The hope is that the facility will not only put the city on the map as a place for serious research, but will also allow for opportunities of cross-collaboration between Rutgers and Rowan scholars that could present beneficial outcomes for science in general and for the regional economy, according to representatives from the school.

“The Joint Health Sciences is a symbol of the collaborative work between world-class institutions, and is an important milestone in fulfilling our mandate [to advance study and research in the bio-sciences and health care areas in Camden],” says Joint Board Chair Jack Collins. “We are leveraging our educational and research assets to support growth in the region’s health care capacity. The Joint Health Sciences Center is a transformative project which will establish a strong research and economic footprint here in South Jersey.”

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Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Biz, Volume 9, Issue 3 (March 2019).

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