OPINION: Cumberland County College and Rowan College of Gloucester County Merger

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In college I had a family ethics professor state, “I believe in long courtships and short engagements.”

His advice about marriage has always stood out in my mind, not just in regard to marriage advice, but to many major life decisions. There are times when life forces us to act quickly, but it is important not to succumb to the tyranny of the urgent by recognizing that there is a time for prudence.

It has been reported that the Cumberland County Board of Chosen Freeholders are strongly urging the Cumberland County College (CCC) Board of Trustees to consider a jointure (a merger) with the Rowan College of Gloucester County (RCGC).

If we do not join together, what is the plan of action for the CCC Board of Trustees and Administration in addressing the enrollment and financial problem?

The potential jointure seems to be a marriage decision without the courtship period. I believe in new ideas to help our area, but I am also cautious. Caution is warranted because the data shows that Cumberland County does not always end up on the best side of deals involving the State and other governmental jurisdictions. It is vitally important that the interest of the students, and all of Cumberland County, be safeguarded through a proper process that is planned, transparent, and engaging with the community.

The CCC Board of Trustees approved a Memorandum of Understanding with RCGC to explore this concept. The rationale for this proposal, as I understand it, is to assist in the solvency of our local community college, expand educational opportunities for our students, and create economic opportunities.

These are laudable and rational goals. Now that we know the goals, the public should be made aware of the timeline and the specifics of the due diligence process that is being followed in making this major decision. Additionally, we need to know the range of alternatives that are also being explored that could achieve the same ends without a full jointure with RCGC.

In any corporate merger and acquisition timeline, there is a due diligence process that involves an intense study of the organization's strategic position, financial data, operational assets, and legal matters. A robust process also consists of the use of a red team, “an independent group that challenges an organization to improve its effectiveness by assuming an adversarial role or point of view.” Following a thoughtful due diligence process is vital to successful ventures, and we must consider alternatives. I am hopeful that a robust procedure is being followed in making this decision, and that it will be shared with the public.

Additional questions need to be asked, and assumptions challenged, in this process. It is my understanding from Freeholder Director Derella’s letter regarding the potential jointure that one of the areas of concern is a projected $2 million shortfall in the CCC budget, and that steps have been taken to reduce the deficit to $750,000.

How does becoming a regional institution solve the national trends of lower enrollment in community colleges? The South Jersey Times Editorial Board reported that RCGC itself only had a .6% increase in enrollment for 2017-2018 and is projecting a flat enrollment for next year. How does marrying the two institutions solve the issue at hand?

If we established a blue-ribbon panel for considering opportunities for the vocational school, why not do so for the college?


If we do not join together, what is the plan of action for the CCC Board of Trustees and Administration in addressing the enrollment and financial problem?

I hope that the process that is being carried out explores the past, present, and potential future conditions of CCC. The outcome of this process should be presented to the stakeholders, namely: the taxpayers and students.

There should also be open forums that allow for a thoughtful exchange of ideas, and alternatives must be considered before any final decisions occur.

Director Derella’s letter also stated, “Revenue at CCC is tied directly to enrollment, and therefore revenue continues to decline.”

However, the understanding for the NJ Community College system used to be that 1/3 of the costs was to be paid by the County, 1/3 by the State, and 1/3 by the students. An examination of the county’s and state’s investment in the college should also be conducted as part of a due diligence process. As a county, we have made a significant investment in a full-time Vo-Tech institution. Have we done the same with our community college? If not, why?

Innovative partnerships are vital to improving educational access and affordability without sacrificing quality and special needs. RCGC and Rowan College of Burlington County (RCBC) adopted the Rowan “brand” without losing their institutional autonomy. If it is genuinely determined that it is in the best interest of the institution that we assume the brand, can we do so without losing our autonomy?

If not, why?

Rowan University is not listed as a partner in the University Center for CCC; why are they not a partner? What are the reasons why we should marry with an institution that has not partnered in the same manner as our regional colleges/universities?

Can we have the 3+1 Rowan University program at CCC without the jointure? Why or why not? Does CCC need to merge with RCGC to link educational achievement with in-demand jobs in the marketplace? Why or why not? Are there other partnerships that we should explore that may be more benefiting to the goals of increasing education opportunities? These are some of the questions that need to be investigated and presented to the public.

The actor Ed Begley, Jr. said, “For decades, community colleges have been the backbone of the American Workforce Training. Because they are nimble and closely attuned to local community needs, they are inherently positioned to be influential leaders of the movement for a sustainable economy.” The community college was designed to reflect its community and serve its needs. Gloucester County and Cumberland County are vastly different. According to the US Census Data, here is a quick snapshot of some fundamental differences:

  • Gloucester County has a population of 292,206 (2017) with 83.6% classified as white alone. 6.0% of the population identifies as Hispanic or Latino and, 10.9% identities as Black or African American alone. 29.9% of their population over 25 years of age have a bachelor’s degree or higher (2012-2016). The median income is $78,592 (2016) with a 7.8% of the population in poverty.
  • Cumberland County has a population of 152,538 (2017) with 71.7% classified as white alone. 30.2% of our population identifies as Hispanic or Latino, and 22.0% identifies as Black or African American alone. 14.3% of our population over 25 years of age have a bachelor’s degree or higher (2012-2016). Our median income is $49,537 (2016) with 18.4% of our population in poverty.

These demographic differences are critical in the due diligence process of merging with a county that is very different from our own. Will a regional college be able to reflect and react to the needs of our community? How will merging with RCGC specifically help link Cumberland County students to regional jobs and opportunities that they might not have had without such an arrangement? How will it benefit the Cumberland County economy?

I am not opposed to a regional community college. I appreciate Director Derella’s letter to the community on this matter. I hope that an open dialogue with a data-driven presentation will continue in our community as the respective boards conduct a thorough due diligence process. It is necessary this process is free from political pressure or financial coercion. The Boards of Trustees for RCGC and CCC must be able to examine this issue without the threat of losing financial support. Each entity must do what is best for the students.

Another idea for the policymakers to consider is the creation of a blue-ribbon panel to explore how best to expand educational and workforce opportunities to Cumberland County residents. In 2008, a blue-ribbon panel was created in Cumberland County to examine the possibility of creating a four-year vocational high school. If we established a blue-ribbon panel for considering opportunities for the vocational school, why not do so for the college? A blue-ribbon panel would aid in the due diligence process, and allow for more voices and perspectives at the table.

I urge the CCC Board of Trustees and the Cumberland County Freeholder Board to make every effort to open the dialogue to the public by presenting all the facts and options that are available to us. I also urge my fellow citizens to be engaged in this process. We must ensure that our students receive the very best education, and that the community college system is in the best position to achieve this goal while aiding in expanding economic opportunities for our county residents.

In the end, a regional college may be the right choice—but we, the public, are not able to draw that conclusion without more information and more time. Perhaps we can date RCGC before we get married to it.

Respectfully Submitted,

Dr. Robin Weinstein

Upper Deerfield, NJ

*The opinions expressed above are my own and do not relate to my employment or other affiliations.


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