We lack enough space in our classrooms to meet the burgeoning demand of students who want to pursue a degree. In fall 2014, approximately 21 million students attended American colleges and universities, an increase of about 5.7 million since fall 2000, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. In South Jersey, the lack of space is particularly acute.
Schools are competitive to the point they have become walled-off islands. Colleges and universities are silos unto themselves, trying to meet everyone's needs rather than admitting other institutions are equally or better equipped to meet specific ones.
At Rowan University, we recognize our obligation as a comprehensive public institution to offer quality educational programs, increase access, keep the cost of education affordable, and help our region's economy grow. We have set a high bar for ourselves, with plans to increase enrollment from 15,000 to 25,000 by 2023, but we are under no illusion that we must — or can — do this on our own.
Rowan College partnerships
Earlier this week, we joined the former Burlington County College in celebrating Rowan's partnership with the two-year community college, and its adoption of the "Rowan College at Burlington County" name. Last year, we shook up the higher education community when we entered into a similar agreement with the former Gloucester County College, which is now named "Rowan College at Gloucester County."
Through both partnerships, students can attain their associate's degree at the county colleges and then either pursue a four-year Rowan University degree on the county college campus, at the university's main campus in Glassboro, or online. The benefit – besides the convenience and ease of transfer – is the financial discount the students receive when they pursue one of the alternate pathways. Students who earn four-year degrees at the county colleges can save approximately $40,000 compared to what it would cost to live and study on the main campus.
Four-year degree programs offered at county colleges in partnership with universities are not new. In New Jersey, Rutgers, Fairleigh Dickinson, Kean and others have offered them for years. What makes our partnership with both Rowan colleges unique is our mutual commitment to driving down the cost of education, creating in-demand academic programs, increasing pathways to a four-year degree, and capitalizing on each other's resources.
This may sound like we are dissuading students from coming to Rowan University directly. We are not. We are offering them more options to earn a four-year degree.
County college first
We recognize that higher education institutions – particularly public ones – should not continue to try to be all things to all people. Ideally, 60 to 70 percent of college students would begin their academic careers at county colleges. Imagine what would happen if we were to align curricular content so that what we teach at county colleges is identical in New Jersey, in Oklahoma and in Washington State. Students could learn the fundamentals and then move on to specialized courses at what are now four-year institutions.
This will not happen tomorrow, if it happens at all. But even contemplating such models reflects our need for greater innovation in higher ed.
Educators, elected officials, business leaders and students must be open to change. Together, sharing responsibility, we can help ensure that higher education becomes more robust and that our country stays at the forefront of developing tomorrow's thinkers and leaders. Nothing is more important than a well-educated population, people who are armed with knowledge, tools and technologies that free us to create the next generation of jobs and to build our economy.
Dr. Ali A. Houshmand is the president of Rowan University. Rowan College of Burlington County, previously called Burlington County College, revealed a logo with its new name on Wednesday.