GCC, Rowan sign a partnership deal

Rowan University president Ali A. Houshmand (right) and trustees chair Linda Rohrer (seated) applaud the deal, in which State Sen. Stephen M. Sweeney (left) was a key figure.
Rowan University president Ali A. Houshmand (right) and trustees chair Linda Rohrer (seated) applaud the deal, in which State Sen. Stephen M. Sweeney (left) was a key figure. (ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer   )
Posted: January 12, 2014

SEWELL With the stroke of a pen - four pens, actually - Gloucester County College disappeared Friday afternoon.

The school's two top leaders signed an agreement and swapped it with their counterparts from Rowan University, officially renaming the community college Rowan College at Gloucester County.

The partnership has two major components. Community college students will be offered "conditional acceptance" to Rowan for seamless transfer from associate's to bachelor's degree programs, and Rowan classes will be taught at the campus in Deptford Township.

The schools remain independent and will be able to work with other institutions. But the agreement, described by a county college spokeswoman as its "premiere partnership," creates a formal union that begins July 1 for a 10-year term.

"You're going to remember this day as a landmark day in this country," Rowan president Ali A. Houshmand said.

"People around the country are going to learn from this thing."

Conditional acceptance will let students complete their two-year associate's degrees and then transfer without applying to Rowan University for the remaining two years of credits for the bachelor's degree as long as they meet certain requirements, including a minimum grade-point average.

The county college students also will receive priority over transfer students from other schools, according to the agreement.

Freshman applicants to Rowan University - primarily high school seniors - from eight counties in South Jersey who are rejected will be sent letters about the "conditional acceptance" program to encourage them to attend the community college and then be guaranteed transfer admission to Rowan.

Students who transfer to Rowan will have the opportunity to stay on the Sewell campus, as the university will have its professors teach Rowan courses there.

Rowan programs at the community college campus will begin with liberal studies, humanities and social science, law and justice studies, education, and business economics.

The county college is already the main "feeder school" for Rowan, and Rowan is the most popular destination for transfer students, school officials said.

Students who transfer from the community college to Rowan University and remain in Deptford for the rest of their bachelor's degree program will receive a 15 percent discount on tuition and fees.

Rowan's nursing program will move to a building under construction at the community college campus; the university hopes to develop a master's and doctoral program to be housed there as well.

"Gloucester County College has arrived," Frederick Keating, the college's president, said, heralding Friday as a moment that is at the "intersection of vision and courage."

Flanked by three Gloucester County College students, Keating described how the idea grew out of a discussion between him and Houshmand about college affordability and partnership opportunities.

Their boards of trustees supported the idea - "it was clear that this day should come," said Linda Rohrer, who chairs the Rowan board - and the two presidents also asked for and received the blessing of the county freeholder board.

As the idea materialized, they sought the help of state Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney (D., Gloucester), who gave Rowan's commencement address in May.

"Higher education affordability is the issue, not just in New Jersey but throughout the United States," Sweeney said, describing his role as the political muscle: "A willingness to go forward, and that as people start pushing back, well, I'm there to push it back against them to get this done."

The partnership takes effect a year to the day after a wide-ranging higher education restructuring act went into effect.

In addition to merging parts of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey into Rutgers University and Rowan, the state approved $1.3 billion in college construction projects after voters approved a bond referendum in 2012.

The shifts in New Jersey's higher education landscape are intended to change the state's longtime status as an exporter of high school graduates, a "brain drain" of approximately 30,000 college students each year that the officials said they hoped to reverse.

"This historic event will ultimately keep more of our most valuable resources, our Gloucester County-educated students, here at Gloucester County," said Robert Damminger, the freeholder director. "We don't want to export our students out of state. We want them to continue to live here, work here, start families here, buy houses here, and remain part of our strong, skilled workforce and community."

jlai@phillynews.com856-779-3220 @elaijuh

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