When a college fair is held at the Moorestown Mall next month one local school won’t be there: Rowan College at Burlington County.
The school isn’t welcome by the organizers because it canceled its own fall college fair to promote a new four-year program — upsetting colleges such as Temple, Rider, Stockton, Rutgers and the College of New Jersey, who wanted to recruit the community college’s students.
“[T]his is really a fight I am waging against the educational establishment for affordable college options for students and parents,” Paul Drayton, the RCBC president, said Friday.
RCBC’s aggressive promotion of its new “3+1” college degree program is also creating tension with other New Jersey community colleges, who say the school is wrongly attempting to act like a four-year institution on their campuses.
The Mount Laurel school had already angered many four-year colleges’ administrations when it announced last month that it would limit on-campus outreach to its students. That meant taking down promotional materials and canceling the Nov. 9 transfer fair.
In response, Rider University and other four-year schools banded together to create a substitute college fair, with more than two-dozen schools attending, just five miles down Route 38 that night at the mall.
“We’re making lemonade with lemons that have been given to us,” said Grecia Montero, director of admissions at the College of New Jersey.
When RCBC administrators learned of the event, they attempted to join it — and were quickly denied by Rider, the main organizer.
“At this point, we said to them they were not welcome at the fair because it’s really the four-year colleges and universities,” James O’Hara, Rider University’s head of enrollment management, said in an interview.
Drayton, RCBC’s president, said his goal is to aggressively promote the school’s “3+1” partnership with Rowan University in Glassboro and compete with other four-year colleges and universities.
“We see ourselves differently, we do not see ourselves as a traditional two-year college,” he said. “We see ourselves, as it relates to this, much more like a four-year college, on the transfer fair issue.”
The 3+1 program allows students to remain on the community college campus and be taught by community college faculty for the third, junior year.
The fourth year is taught by Rowan University faculty. By taking the third year at the community college, the program is designed to lower the cost of a Rowan University bachelor’s degree and be more accessible for students who find the community college campus more convenient than Rowan University’s main campus.
Administrators at the four-year colleges say RCBC is limiting student access to the array of options.
But Drayton questioned their motives. Many four year colleges in the region depend on transfer students as a vital enrollment source, he noted, specifically citing Rider’s troubles with enrollment and finances.
“They’re being motivated by their enrollment,” he said.
O’Hara denied that: “That’s not the case. The case is about access.”
Drayton has also begun straining relationships with some community colleges.
RCBC has begun reaching out to other community colleges and asking to participate in their transfer fairs; Drayton sees it as marketing a four-year program alongside others.
When RCBC asked to participate in college fairs at Camden County College and Mercer County Community College, those schools said no.
“It’s for four-year schools. So it’s not really about doing anything to Burlington from our perspective, it wasn’t about going after them,” said Don Borden, the president of Camden County College.
Jim Gardner, the Mercer spokesman, said his school was being cautious because the Burlington program is new.
Ocean County College did allow RCBC into its transfer fair earlier this month. But on Friday afternoon, a spokeswoman said in a statement that “moving forward into 2017, Ocean County College will accommodate only baccalaureate degree granting institutions at subsequent transfer fairs or any other related transfer events.”
All three schools noted that Glassboro-based Rowan University participates in their events and is welcome to promote its 3+1 partnerships.
A Rowan University spokesman said representatives would be able to discuss 3+1 programs at fairs but are focused primarily on the university’s main offerings. The university has had no part in RCBC’s decisions regarding its aggressive promotion of the 3+1 program, both schools said.
Only Middlesex County College agreed to allow RCBC to participate in its transfer fair.
“We’re all about opportunity for our students, particularly after they graduate,” said Tom Peterson, spokesman for the school. He said there was no real discussion about the decision.
RCBC is also participating in a college fair at Brookdale Community College in Monmouth County, which a spokesman said hosts the event but does not organize it.
Administrators from several schools, including RCBC, Mercer, and Middlesex, recommended speaking with Will Austin, president of Warren County Community College.
Austin, the incoming head of the group representing New Jersey’s 19 community college presidents, said he disagreed with RCBC's approach. Among his concerns, Austin said, is whether the RCBC junior year credits would transfer to other colleges and how the program would affect students’ federal financial aid.
He rejected Drayton’s argument that RCBC is a hybrid of a two- and four-year school that is now competing with four-year colleges.
“The problem is they don’t have a four-year program. They are a traditional two-year college,” Austin said. “What they have is a relationship with one college, Rowan University.”
Austin said he believes RCBC will change course over time. He compared the Burlington County school’s approach to Rowan College at Gloucester County, which also has a 3+1 program with Rowan University but has not taken the same steps toward marketing the program.
“One is taking a competitive approach in their marketing agenda, and one is taking a more collaborative approach in their marketing agenda,” Austin said. “And I think everybody in the end will find out … that by collaborating together, in the long run we will serve more people and we will serve New Jersey better.”