And it all starts with business.
Houshmand not only wants his students working for companies during their studies so they will be ready to join the workforce, he also wants businesses to help prepare his curriculum so his students are being taught what is needed. The partnership goes deeper. Houshmand wants businesses to run some aspects of his campus, using public-private partnerships to build facilities such as academic buildings, dorms and food services. He wants to share the revenue because, he said, part of something is better than all of nothing.
It’s all part of Houshmand’s grand vision to rebuild higher education.
Higher education, he said, should not only be the driver of the economy, it should be a self-sustaining, successful business of its own. Revenue from the state should not be expected and, potentially, even phased out. And students should not be forced to pick up the tab. But he is not a proponent of free education. In fact, he thinks it’s a terrible idea.
I absolutely believe that anytime you give anything to anybody for free, it becomes an entitlement and eventually will be a massive burden to the economy,” he said.
But he is helping his students graduate with as little debt as possible, in part by keeping in-state tuition under $13,000 a year. It’s all part of doing business, he said.
And it appears to be working.
Rowan has approximately 7,000 more students than it did when he took over as president in 2011. More than 18,000 are expected to enroll in the fall. And Rowan employs 4,186 people, approximately 2,300 more people than it did six years ago. All this was accomplished while Rowan’s appropriations from the state for undergraduates decreased. It has occurred because of Houshmand’s emphasis on running the school like a business.
The suddenly not-so-sleepy town of Glassboro has benefited at the same time, increasing its ratables, he said, from less than $100,000 to $2 million, helping it become one of the few New Jersey municipalities where property values have increased. And this is before the potentially game-changing West Campus is built. Students have not been left behind, either. Rowan graduated more than 3,000 students earlier this month. And a record number of students (nearly 4,500) are taking classes this summer.
Rowan is getting attention. It was ranked as the second-most-innovative school among regional universities in the North and the No. 2 public school among regional universities in New Jersey in the prestigious U.S. News & World Report rankings. The reviews, however, are not all positive. Other New Jersey presidents admit Houshmand is trying to shake up (or is it tear down?) their longstanding models of operation. And some, privately, admit they do not like it. Houshmand knows the criticism is out there, but he is undeterred.
“When they hear we are singing a different tune, it’s a threat,” he said. “I really believe it’s the responsible thing to do. I really believe in higher education, that we have a system that is broken and needs an overhaul. We need to accept that it is broken.”