North/South Divide over Higher Education should end now

Important – Assemblywoman Wagner, a member of the Joint Higher Education Committee, parts ways with Sen. Steve Sweeney’s response to U.S. Sen. Lautenberg’s call for a federal review of the proposed merger of Rutgers-Camden and Rowan universities. – promoted by Rosi

As a member of the Joint Higher Education Committee on the merger of Rowan, Rutgers and UMDNJ, I had the opportunity to listen to the passionate testimony of over 100 individuals who represented varied interests.  

I came to the meeting with an open mind and the hope that two questions would be answered.  Would this merger offer expanded educational opportunities for the students of New Jersey and would this plan provide for a more efficient less costly method of delivering higher education to the students of New Jersey?  

Sadly enough, the plan offered little in the expansion of choice for the students of South Jersey and offered no financial details as to how this can occur.  

The plan simply needs more work.  The four month deadline is absurd.  There are too many questions that need to be answered.  The first one is how to pay for this.  I heard estimates from as low as 40 million dollars each year to millions upon millions of dollars to make this happen.  In addition, I struggle to have Rutgers Camden Law and Rutgers Camden Business School simply go away and be turned over to Rowan.  

The students in South Jersey deserve an opportunity to have a choice of Rutgers Camden or Rowan.  A possible alternate, if we are looking to cut down costs and offer more opportunities, would be to form a consortium of the two schools in order to share services, grants etc.

The Rutgers-New Brunswick UMDNJ piece of the consolidation also needs more work.  How will this merger affect University Hospital and how will this merger help or hinder the progress of Newark’s revitalization program? During his testimony, Mayor Corey Booker quoted an African Proverb when he stated, “Go fast, you go it alone.  Go slow and you go together. ”  

Senator Sweeney is correct that we are not getting back what we deserve from Washington DC.  Currently we are third from the bottom in federal higher education funding, this is atrocious and we need to fight for more money to be brought back to New Jersey.  Our congressional delegation of Republicans and Democrats must work together to bring us more money for our students.

While I echo Senator Sweeney’s disappointment over the federal funding we receive, I do not agree with his assessment of Senator Lautenberg’s letter to Secretary Duncan.  There are far too many questions swirling around the merger of Rutgers-Camden and Rowan for them not to be asked.  The merger of Rutgers-New Brunswick and UMDNJ doesn’t seem to be embraced by many, if anyone at all besides Governor Christie.  After two hearings of the Joint Higher Education Committee I still have more questions than answers.  

In the area of higher education New Jersey has much work to be done.  As a state, we have not funded higher education to the level that it deserves.  While South Jersey legislators fight for their schools, North Jersey legislators are called “pigs” for stating the simple fact that we need more money for these institutions as well.  With each budget we have shortchanged our institutions, North and South, and now the burden is being felt by our students and families with rising educational costs and they are simply not able to keep up.  The answer can not be more student loans.  Our students and families are drowning in debt.  

The bottom line is if the Governor’s plan is to succeed it needs more facts before placed into operation.  The legislature needs to be a part of the solution and the solution needs to be good for all NJ students, not only those south of Trenton but the entire State. The hearings allowed people to voice their concerns and now these concerns must be addressed by our higher education leaders, the Governor, and the legislature.  The time to act as one state, for all our residents, is now.

Comments (10)

  1. 12mileseastofTrenton

    It is a divide between insiders seeking to increase their power and influence against everyone else on the outside looking in.

  2. firstamend07

    The Senate President himself stated that more details must be put on the table.

    Unfortunately Old Frank ,who attended no hearings and showed no interest decides that there is ” corruption” in all of this.

    He got involved simply for political reasons and he deserves to be called out .

    This should not have been a North/South issue but Old Frank, with his anti-South Jersey baggage came out of no where and started this problem.  

  3. BillW

    I applaud Assemblywoman Wagner for recognizing the legitimate concerns raised by those who have questioned the “plan” presented by the Governor for re-structuring higher education, and for recognizing that the points raised by Senator Lautenberg are substantive ones.  If our state is going to be serious about improving higher education, we need more politicians like Assemblywoman Wagner, who actually listens to the evidence presented and wants to produce a result that benefits the citizens of the state.

  4. JackHarris

    This is an issue of significant concern to NJ. I want to thank you for your leadership on this issue Assemblywoman Wagner.

    As Rutgers Trustee and CEO of Motorola Solutions Greg Brown said, “Suspend the emotions, Suspend the politics”.

    This is great advice to follow as we assess what higher education in NJ should look like in the 21st century and I want to applaud you for taking a reasoned approach to this issue.

    I have my own views on this subject, Boost Rutgers Statewide Reach, published in the Asbury Park Press two Sundays ago.  

    To move forward I think the UMDNJ and Rut-Ro issue need to be separated out from each other before any progress can be made on either issue. The whole point of the Kean Commission and Barer reports was to assess medical education in NJ and more importantly, address the UMDNJ issue in a much more manageable way.

    Rutgers and UMDNJ have been planning for both institutional and leadership transitions and I would encourage you to ask for details on the planning process and steps Rutgers has taken to make the return of UMDNJ’s New Brunswick area facilities to Rutgers work.

    I suspect you and all of us, will be pleasantly surprised.

    It would also be a good way to assess the Rut-Ro situation.  Has a similar planning process been followed?

    One thing that continues to puzzle me is if a key reason for the Rut-Ro combination is to increase higher education seats in South Jersey and forge better local relationships through the creation of a regional university, why is Stockton State College missing in all these discussions?

    Isn’t Stockton better located to serve Atlantic and Cape May Counties, Southern Ocean County and a big chunk of Cumberland County than Rowan or Rutgers-Camden?

    If a southern New Jersey regional university is the goal, why not a merger of Rutgers-Camden, Rowan and Stockton?

    Or better yet, the creation of a comprehensive regional university in southern New Jersey through the merger of Rowan and Stockton.

    Rutgers-Camden could remain part of Rutgers statewide systems while continuing to play a key role in Rutgers AAU and land-grant missions, and formal partnerships, consortiums and BA/Masters, BA/JD. BA/MBA, etc. programs could be established between the new Rowan/Stockton Regional University and Rutgers.

    There are numerous ways to solve this problem that don’t require chopping off one campus of a statewide, flagship public university.

    As I said in my opinion piece in the APP, Rutgers is one of the few institutions in New Jersey with real statewide reach. Why change that?  


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