2014 brought changes in higher education to N.J.

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Stockton College made clear it had no plan to stop its explosive growth with the high-profile purchase of the shuttered Showboat Atlantic City, which will house a campus in the resort.

With New Jersey continuing its notorious "brain drain" export of more than 30,000 college students every year, much of the focus in higher education in 2014 remained on expansion: breaking ground on new academic buildings, increasing housing options at the state's public colleges, and offering new ways to obtain degrees. There also were leadership changes, a new name for one community college and - of course - political battles. Here's a look back at some of the changes in the higher education landscape last year:

1. Stockton buys Showboat

Stockton College made clear it had no plan to stop its explosive growth with the high-profile purchase of the shuttered Showboat Atlantic City, which will house a campus in the resort.

The school paid $18 million for the property, which will be repurposed to include about 20 classrooms, 10 lecture facilities, a dance studio, and other art spaces.

Stockton has been growing dramatically in recent years, and last year it began petitioning the state to become Stockton University. Enrollment has kept increasing - the school welcomed a record number of freshmen for the fourth year in a row - and work has begun on a number of new academic buildings. Last year also marked the completion of a $25.36 million fund-raising campaign.

2. Rowan University continues expansion

Rowan President Ali A. Houshmand has set aggressive 10-year goals, which include doubling enrollment, quadrupling research funding, and increasing the university's operating budget to $1 billion from $400 million. Almost every aspect of the university is growing, with Rowan creating new academic programs, hiring faculty members for them, and increasing its enrollment.

Last year, Rowan enrolled its largest, most diverse freshman class ever, approved its first-ever Ph.D. programs, and continued to add to its faculty ranks.

And in a move that could encourage even more applicants, Rowan University dropped its standardized test requirement for many applicants.

A few months after Gov. Christie delivered the 2014 commencement speech to Rowan graduates, Rowan announced he would be the last university-wide speaker: The university has now grown to the point that it can no longer stage one large, unified commencement ceremony.

In the spring, for the first time, Rowan will have a series of smaller ceremonies, each with its own speaker.

3. Gloucester County College becomes Rowan College at Gloucester County

One pipeline Rowan University hopes to build out over the next few years is transfer students from community colleges. The university in 2014 signed a deal with Gloucester County College (which changed its name to Rowan College at Gloucester County) that offers students conditional acceptance to Rowan University after they spend two years at the community college.

Any high school students rejected from Rowan University during the freshman application process will receive a letter explaining the deal, under which they can attend the community college and be guaranteed transfer admission to the university.

That gives students the safety of knowing they will be accepted to Rowan University as transfer students while making use of the community college's classroom space and giving the university an expanded pool of incoming students.

Administrators and lawmakers also hailed the move as opening higher education by making it more affordable, as students at the community college face lower costs for the first two years.

4. Rutgers makes governance changes after a Sweeney stand-off

A long, complicated political battle broke out when state Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester) tried to increase the number of political appointees to Rutgers University's main governing board. As with previous legislative attempts to alter Rutgers' governance structure, the move brought immediate opposition from Rutgers activists and board members wary of political interference.

As the fight dragged on, the Senate ultimately passed the bill, and Sweeney delivered an ultimatum of sorts, offering Rutgers a chance at compromise: make some changes, or Sweeney would advance the legislation.

Months later, the Rutgers board approved governance changes that, though minor relative to Sweeney's initial proposal, gave both sides a chance to claim compromise. The Legislature unanimously passed legislation supporting the changes, which reduce the size of a largely advisory body.

5. New ways to obtain college degrees, but another is shut down

With college graduates continuing to fare better than their non-degree-holding counterparts, a variety of new avenues for obtaining degrees and earning college credit popped up in 2014.

For high school students, Rowan College at Gloucester County partnered with the Gloucester County Institute of Technology next door to offer high school and associate's degrees at the same time.

At the other end of the spectrum, adults who left college or never attended can take advantage of a new plan the state began last year to offer college credit for non-academic work experience.

And schools continued to offer joint programs, such as one formed last year by Rowan University and Stockton College to give students bachelor's degrees from both schools.

At the end of the year, news broke that Drexel University's off-campus degree programs are shutting down. Those programs, in which Drexel professors travel to community college campuses to teach students at discounted rates, had been lauded as an affordable, accessible way for students to obtain bachelor's degrees.

At Burlington County College, which has partnered with Drexel for a decade, about 300 students are enrolled in the program; they will be allowed to finish.

6. New Camden entity receives eminent domain power, eyes health sciences building

After a higher education restructuring that took effect in 2013, a joint board was created last year to oversee collaboration between Rowan University and Rutgers-Camden in health sciences areas. The Legislature granted that board broad powers, including eminent domain, with lawmakers saying they wanted to give the group flexibility to pursue academic programs, public-private partnerships, and research.

The new board hired Kris Kolluri as CEO, who set a goal of developing degree programs and training a health professions workforce in the city. Kolluri introduced the board's first program, a medical apprenticeship and training program for high school seniors in Camden.

Kolluri and board members also made clear their goal of creating a multidisciplinary health sciences building in Camden that will house academic programs from Rutgers-Camden, Rowan University, and other schools and private companies.

7. Phoebe Haddon becomes Rutgers–Camden chancellor

Wendell E. Pritchett left his post as head of Rutgers-Camden last year, replaced by Phoebe A. Haddon, who had taught for three decades at Temple University's law school before joining the University of Maryland as dean of its law school.

Haddon said she would seek to continue Pritchett's focus on civic engagement and advance the causes of diversity, accessibility, and affordability. Among the ways she hopes to do that are improving student advising and creating clearer paths to graduation.

8. Tenure takes longer

Faculty and administrators welcomed a law that took effect last summer that will now give them six years to build their research portfolios before being reviewed for tenure.

Increasing the amount of time to six years from five allows them to make a stronger case for tenure, faculty said, and makes tenure review fairer for fields where research may take longer to publish.

Schools also will be able to grant tenure to faculty hired from colleges where they already have tenure, a change that administrators said would give them more flexibility to hire established scholars.


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