By George E. Norcross III
Rarely does an opportunity come along that can transform a city and region for generations to come. Yet Camden and South Jersey have a chance to ignite their economies, create hundreds and possibly thousands of jobs, and take first-class universities to an even higher level. They have been offered the promise of a new era, where a resurgent downtown and safe, vibrant neighborhoods restore a sense of pride in the people who live and work there.
Such an opportunity has presented itself in the proposed merger of Rowan University and Rutgers-Camden, establishing a new Rowan Rutgers University. This exciting, inspired plan can be the catalyst for the kind of renaissance that could make South Jersey an epicenter of intellectual and economic success for decades. It’s up to us to seize this chance.
The recent proposal by Gov. Christie breathes new life into a concept that has been discussed for nearly a decade. It calls for the partnering of Rutgers-Camden and Rowan to establish a premier research university that would join the ranks of the great educational institutions in the New Jersey-eastern Pennsylvania region. The plan would mean an enormous expansion of the existing Rutgers campus in the city of Camden and an even larger Rowan presence in Glassboro. It would also include the new Cooper Medical School, the Rutgers School of Law, and the Rowan College of Engineering.
The realigned institutions would give the region an elite research university emphasizing medicine, the law, business, and engineering – building upon the widely acclaimed work of the Rutgers-Camden research faculty and the growing reputation for excellence at Rowan, ranked by U.S. News and World Report in the “Top Tier” of northern regional universities.
By the end of the decade, the existing Rutgers-Camden campus would likely triple in size, fueling hundreds of millions of dollars in construction and the potential for thousands of jobs. Tens of millions of state dollars would flow into South Jersey. And the new Rowan Rutgers University would be better positioned to receive federal research grants, state higher-education funding, and investments from private-industry partners. It is unacceptable that New Jersey ranks 47th of the 50 states for its investment in higher education, and 23d in funding for medical research grants.
The plan’s impact on the city of Camden and Camden County, as well as on Glassboro and Gloucester County, cannot be overestimated. New businesses would open. Existing businesses would flourish. And the streets would be alive, which typically leads to a thriving economy and a safer environment. All across America, universities have revitalized long-stagnant communities. In Philadelphia, the growth of Drexel University and the University of Pennsylvania has created a vibrant nightlife and resurgent business districts in surrounding neighborhoods.
The proposed expansion would join a number of current and long-standing efforts that have already brought about great progress in Camden. The recent approval of New Jersey’s Urban Hope Act is expected to trigger about $250 million in new construction of elementary and middle schools and renovated or new high schools, as well as to attract new charter schools. Cooper Hospital, now in its 125th year in Camden, has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in new construction while maintaining the thousands of jobs it provides as the largest employer in the city. Likewise, Lourdes Health System and the Campbell Soup Co. have invested tens of millions of dollars in Camden, never wavering in their commitment to the city.
As the efforts of these and other institutions continue, the proposed new university system would be the crowning achievement – the ultimate stimulus for the dramatic turnaround the city so desperately needs. With such great promise, we cannot afford to let the opportunity pass. We owe it to the citizens of Camden and all of South Jersey to make the region a pillar of higher learning and economic opportunity. It will be the greatest legacy we could leave our children.
George E. Norcross III is chairman of the Cooper Health System and Cooper University Hospital