Are NJ County Colleges to Get Dormitories?

Credit: (Matt Nazario-Miller from Flickr; CC BY 2.0)

For decades, New Jersey County’s 18 colleges have been known primarily as places where high school graduates and adults looking for new skills could get a reasonably priced education in the liberal arts, sciences or studies. technical courses near them.

Some schools are now looking to go beyond their regions by adding housing, which gives their students some of the atmosphere that comes with those living on campus in four-year colleges.

Legislation that would allow county colleges to add housing passed its first legislative hurdle earlier this month when the Assembly’s Higher Education Committee approved A-246, which would allow community colleges to build, operate and maintain dormitories for students. The bill is due to be voted on by the plenary assembly on Thursday.

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The hearing on the bill was strange, none of the sponsors of the bill, nor anyone else, testified for or against the bill. MP DiAnne Gove (R-Ocean) asked if any members knew “why are we doing this right now”. Committee chair Mila Jasey (D-Essex) responded, “Actually, I don’t have any information on this.” Still, there was a quick call for a vote, which was approved 5-0, with Gove abstaining because she said she wanted more information. The hearing lasted less than two minutes.

MP Wayne DeAngelo (D-Mercer) later said he introduced the bill at the behest of Mercer County Community College. He said the school has unique programs, including its culinary and aviation programs, which attract students from other countries and even out of state, as well as a “large number of international students. “.

Mercer County Community College

“(The college) has to find accommodation for them or they have to find their own accommodation,” he said. Before the coronavirus pandemic, many lived at Rider University in Lawrenceville. Mercer Community is in West Windsor. “Mercer County to Rider is probably a six to eight mile drive, but again, you’re in another town, you’re in the dormitory of another private school.

The New Jersey County Board of Colleges did not call for the legislation. At least two other colleges, Middlesex County and Raritan Valley, are also interested in possibly adding dormitories.

About 18 months ago, Raritan Valley, a college in Branchburg that serves approximately 7,800 students from Hunterdon and Somerset counties, began exploring the possibility of adding housing to the campus.

“As part of the College’s strategic vision, we are exploring the feasibility of providing student housing on campus,” said Michael J. McDonough, President of Raritan Valley Community College. “We hired a financial advisor to determine the economic viability of building housing on campus. Student accommodation at RVCC has a number of potential benefits for students, including providing a comprehensive college experience, increasing enrollment, improving retention and completion rates, combating housing insecurity and the expansion of sports programs on campus. Since the start of the pandemic, however, the project has been put on hold. “

Mark McCormick, president of Middlesex County Community College, said the school “will consider the potential for student residences on campus as part of the development of its new master plan.

Who is behind the legislation?

DeAngelo and the bill’s other main sponsors, Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Middlesex) and MP Eliana Pintor Marin (D-Essex), said in a statement on the progress of the bill that county college dormitories would make schools more attractive to students who live further afield and could “also help address the critical issue of growing student homelessness.”

A growing number of two-year community colleges across the country have built on-campus housing for students in recent years. Martha Parham, of the American Association of Community Colleges, said just over a quarter of these schools nationwide have dormitories.

“It appears that more and more colleges are trying to tackle food and housing insecurities,” she said.

No college in New Jersey County currently has on-campus housing. The 1962 law that allowed counties to create two-year schools is silent on dormitories. Under the law, county governing bodies could seek to establish a college after conducting a study, obtaining approval from the then State Higher Education Council and voters. The law described eligible schools as “offering educational programs, extending no more than 2 years beyond high school, which may include, but are not limited to, specialized or comprehensive study programs, including including college credit transfer courses, liberal arts terminal courses, and technical institute-type programs. Fifteen counties then established their own schools and three pairs of counties established joint colleges.

Community colleges still offer associated courses or degrees to students, most of whom live in the county, at a much lower cost than four-year public schools in New Jersey. For example, tuition and fees are currently $ 15,407 for the year at Rutgers University and $ 14,407 at Stockton University. The average tuition and annual fees at state county colleges are half that amount, and a student can earn a two-year associate’s degree for less than the cost of a single year in one. four-year school. Atlantic Cape Community College tuition and total fees for all but a few specialty degrees range from $ 10,875 to $ 12,594.

Other changes in colleges

While cutting costs, some have gone beyond that initial assignment in a number of ways in recent years, typically by partnering with four-year state colleges.

For example, six colleges in the county – Atlantic Cape, Brookdale, Camden, Mercer, Morris, and Raritan Valley – partnered with Rutgers so that a student could earn a four-year degree from Rutgers University while taking all of the courses. needed in county colleges. Rowan University has a similar program, which it calls 3 + 1, with its partner county colleges, which have changed their names to reflect the arrangement: Rowan College in Burlington (formerly Burlington County College) and Rowan College of South Jersey (formerly Cumberland and Gloucester County Colleges).

It is unclear how the addition of housing on campus might impact tuition and fees at the county colleges or how their construction would be funded. The bill simply amends the 1962 Act to give college boards “the power to set room and board charges sufficient for the operation, maintenance and rental of student accommodation and educational institutions. restoration”. Right now, county taxpayers are subsidizing some of the costs of their community colleges, but it is questionable whether county commissioners would ask taxpayers to pay tens of millions of dollars to build dormitories.

DeAngelo said it would be up to individual counties to make those decisions, but some options would be asking college foundations to raise money for construction or allow schools to enter into public-private partnerships, as some have done. state colleges, through which a developer builds. housing and collects rent and includes retail space that would be open to the public and provide additional income.

How much would it cost the students?

Students who choose to live on campus could end up paying more than double what they currently do for accommodation and board, which at state colleges currently ranges from around $ 12,000 at the University of Stockton at over $ 15,000 at Montclair State and New Jersey City universities.

DeAngelo said colleges should be given the option to decide whether to add dormitories and give students the choice of living on campus or commuting.

“We’re trying to shake off the stigma of grade 13 with community colleges, to make them a little more sustainable,” he said. “Everyone wants to be proud of where they’re going and I think that’s a start.”

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