Rowan or Rutgers? Better for the Camden campus

Posted: March 12, 2012

Putting Rutgers-Camden under the Rowan University umbrella is best for South Jersey's students, and the region.

The proposed realignment of New Jersey's major university would provide a long needed makeover of the state's fragmented higher-education network.

It would merge the Camden campus of Rutgers University with Glassboro-based Rowan. The University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey would link with Rutgers' main New Brunswick campus. The result would be a stronger higher-education system that could better compete with the nation's top public universities.

The proposal would give Rowan campuses in both Glassboro and Camden, which would include a law school, two business schools, and the soon-to-open Cooper Medical School. Rowan would join an elite group of universities with a medical school and a law school.

The merger would also help stem the "brain-drain" exodus of bright young people who leave the state to go to college. Each year, about 35,000 students leave New Jersey to attend college elsewhere. That's more than in any other state. And most never return.

The problem is more acute in South Jersey, which has about 30 percent of New Jersey's population, but only about 12 percent of the seats for college undergraduates. Except for Burlington, none of the eight South Jersey counties comes close to the statewide average of 34 percent of its residents with baccalaureate degrees. The averages in the south range from 13 percent in Cumberland to 27 percent in Camden and Cape May Counties.

Gov. Christie strongly supports the merger recommended by a gubernatorial task force. He says "this is going to happen." It should. But to ensure a successful merger, Christie must allow adequate time to fully work out the details.

Students, faculty, and alumni at Rutgers-Camden are very upset about possibly losing the Rutgers brand. That's understandable. Rutgers is "the State University of New Jersey," founded in 1766, before this nation was even born. Rowan, formerly Glassboro State University, began in 1923.

But many opponents of the merger are losing sight of the poor-stepchild relationship Rutgers-Camden has had with the main campus in New Brunswick. They have complained about not getting their fair share for years. Their concerns now about leaving the Rutgers family shouldn't thwart the merger proposal.

Then, too, the Rowan brand isn't anything to sniff at either. The university's reputation has risen steadily since it acquired its name after receiving a $100 million gift from industrialist Henry Rowan. In fact, Rowan will announce Monday that former student and Comcast executive Larry Salva and his wife Rita are giving $1 million to the new medical school, the largest one-time gift by an alumnus.

There are so many ways that South Jersey will benefit by creating an even greater institution through the merger of the various entities associated with Rowan and Rutgers. If people could get past the name change and see the opportunities, they would agree.