COMMENTARY: Restructuring good for Rowan, N.J.
By Linda Rohrer
The teenager weighing college options, the baby boomer facing a medical crisis and the business owner on Main Street owe thanks to Gov. Chris Christie, Senate President Steve Sweeney and state Sen. Donald Norcross, who have changed the face of higher education and laid the groundwork for major improvements in health care, business and the economy statewide.
The initiative impacting higher education most is the New Jersey Medical and Health Sciences Education Restructuring Act. After two decades of officials exploring changes to higher education — yet unable to bring them to fruition — Christie and Sweeney mustered bipartisan political support, with Sweeney leading the work on the legislation and the governor signing it in 2012.
The restructuring act brought about broad statewide changes, including designating Rowan as a research institution and bringing the School of Osteopathic Medicine to the university. Research status enables us to offer more programs in high-demand fields and increase work that addresses real needs and can be brought to market. (We’ve jumped 35 percent in federal grants alone in eight months.) The restructuring act teams Rowan with Rutgers–Camden to create health sciences programs. Together, these equal more education opportunities, improved health care, research that triggers new businesses and a boost to our regional economy.
The recent Building Our Future Bond Act, supported by the governor and leaders such as Sweeney and Norcross, provides funds to expand all the state colleges, universities and community colleges. At Rowan, it will fund the construction of new engineering and business buildings. This will enable us to double enrollment in competitive programs as we plan to double total enrollment to 25,000 students by 2023 to meet the rising demand for affordable quality education. In a state that is short on seats in college classrooms, this is critical for our students and for the businesses that need highly trained professionals.
The groundwork for these transformations dates to 2009, when the senators, along with Norcross’ civic leader brother George, spearheaded the Cooper University Health Care/Rowan partnership to create the first four-year medical school in New Jersey in 35-plus years. Opened in 2012, Cooper Medical School of Rowan University addresses the looming shortage of physicians in the Garden State while building an “eds and meds” hub in Camden for South Jersey. These changes in part fostered exceptional undergraduate, graduate and professional programs at Rowan.
Recently, for example, we announced a new partnership to team with Lockheed Martin on research; unveiled the $5 million Rowan Venture Fund to award grants to researchers who have the potential to commercialize inventions; and announced a $3.05 million Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grant to transform health care delivery.
More research and expanded programs will lead to more businesses and jobs, whether from new companies developing from research operations or existing companies moving here to tap into a highly educated workforce. Those jobs and businesses enrich New Jersey and build our economy.
Christie, Sweeney and Norcross serve us all by being committed to higher education, health care and the economy. Their leadership, courage and vision have made a difference for South Jersey in 2014 and for generations to come.
Rowan will award honorary degrees to Christie, Sweeney and Norcross at commencement on May 16.
Linda Rohrer is chairman of the Rowan University Board of Trustees.