Dropping a campus, picking up a name: How an N.J. community college is reinventing itself
By Michelle Caffrey | For NJ.com | August 11, 2015 at 8:57 AM
It makes sense to Brian Ivery.
As the 25-year-old college student browsed the shelves at Rowan College at Burlington County's Mount Laurel campus' bookstore on a recent Friday afternoon, he said the two big back-to-back announcements coming from the former Burlington County Community College this summer — it became the second in the state to partner with Rowan University and adopt its brand, plus announced it planned to close its Pemberton campus — seemed like no-brainers.
"This is keeping up with the times," said Ivery, a Mount Laurel native who is studying video production.
A celebration of the college's new look, logo and name is set for Aug. 18 at 3 p.m., and so far, its President Paul Drayton said much of the reaction has been similiar to Ivery's.
"We already have had 410 people who have RSVP'ed for this event," said Drayton in a phone interview last week, adding that's an impressive feat to complete in a week during the dead of summer.
"That's an indication of how well this is going," he said.
Drayton said the decision to ink a deal with Rowan University centered around one main mission — affordability.
"That was really the goal, to provide students and families with a prized educational degree at a low cost," he said.
The basics of the partnership are fairly simple. Starting in January, any student who completes their associate's degree at Burlington County college will be automatically accepted into Rowan University to study two more years and complete their bachelor's degree as long as they maintain a 2.0 grade point average. That means the four-year degree could come at a cost of just $30,000 — the pricetag for just one year of study at many universities.
"The response from students and response from parents has been overwhelmingly positive," said Drayton. "They see a great opportunity for them moving forward."
The deal to partner with Rowan University and rebrand the college comes just over a year since the former Gloucester County College first paved the way, becoming Rowan College at Gloucester County and launching a program administrators dubbed a "seamless" transition from community college to a four-year degree. With Rowan University consistently ranking as one of the most popular for students to transfer to following graduation, Drayton said the administration in Burlington County saw the results stemming from the Gloucester County transition and decided to follow suit.
"[Rowan College at Gloucester County] was an absolute success story and we thought we could absolutely do the same thing here in Burlington County," said Drayton, adding their type of partnership becoming common place at community colleges across the state in an effort to stay competitive in not-so-easy economic times.
"The strategy here puts us out ahead of the curve of the changing dynamic in higher education," said Drayton. "We've figured out a way to make a four-year degree affordable and that really is the highlight of what we're doing. That is the number one issue on the minds of students and on the minds of parents: 'How am I going to be able to pay for college, and what happens when I graduate and I have thousands of dollars of debt? What does that do to my future?"
In addition to affordability, the partnership also brings with it the strength of Rowan's brand.
Ivery, the student going into his second year of studying at the college, said the cost savings are a big deal to him, but the name change sweetens the deal.
"I think it really sounds better," said Ivery, who plans to pursue his bachelor's degree through Rowan. As Ivery's mother Barbara Ivery, herself an alumni of then-Burlington County College said she was a big fan of the deal.
"You can't beat it," she said. "The cost factor is wonderful."
Closing a campus
While Rowan College at Burlington County students will be streaming into the college's main campus in Pemberton when classes start this September, Drayton said most all will be attending classes at is Briggs Road campus in Mount Laurel this time next year.
More than half of the college's students already attend classes in Mount Laurel, and another 20 percent take classes online, making Pemberton a kind of "third campus," as opposed to the central campus it was when it first opened in 1971, said Drayton.
The decision to close the Pemberton campus, however, was largely driven by a private consulting study showed that sustaining it for the future would require a $50 million investment, a number that didn't make sense when population centers and demand for classes near Mount Laurel is swelling, and the number of students from the Pemberton area is dwindling
Maintaining both, he said, was not a viable option.
"Ultimatley, the cost would've been borne by our students and our parents," said Drayton, adding the closure will save $3 million to $4 million a year.
Instead, Drayton said the college is planning on investing funds into the Mount Laurel campus to build a new facility that would house a student center, library and dining hall.
That came as welcome news to international student Maria Barykina. The 23-year-old, who hails from Kazakhstan, was picking up supplies for the school year at the Mount Laurel bookstore when she said she much preferred it over trekking out to Pemberton.
"I would rather come here," said Barykina, who is studying fashion design and also considering taking advantage of the new partnership with Rowan to obtain her bachelor's degree through the university.
The transition of exactly how the Pemberton campus will be phased out is still being formulated, Drayton said, but more details for the first 18-month plan will be presented to him next month.
About 50 percent of the faculty and staff will be in their new permanent location once Pemberton closes, and the other half will be in a temporary location until the new facility is constructed in their second phase. Drayton said the plans for the proposed building are still in the design stage, and likely wouldn't be completed until another three to four years.