ATLANTIC CITY — When Harvey Kesselman entered Stockton University's first freshman class in 1971, the new school's motto was: "Plant Yourself Where You Can Grow."
And he did, going from student to tutor to a variety of administrative roles and finally, decades later, president of the New Jersey university.
"As the institution grew, I grew along with it," he said.
Kesselman sees the same potential in Stockton's new, $178.3 million Atlantic City campus, opening for classes next Wednesday, Sept. 5, with a three-story academic center and a five-story oceanfront residence hall with 145 apartment-style rooms for more than 500 students.
"You're going to call them condos after you see them, because they are absolutely magnificent," boasted Kesselman, standing on the sun-splashed Boardwalk on Tuesday as he began a tour of the new site, with bicyclists and runners passing and an ocean breeze blowing.
The residence hall, with a bookstore and fitness center, is virtually filled to capacity, meaning a lot of Stockton students will be having morning coffee gazing at the Atlantic Ocean, then heading to class at the academic building, featuring a food court, classrooms, and event space. Excitement is building: A photo of the ocean view from one of the new apartments posted this summer on the university's Facebook page garnered more than 66,000 views.
University and Atlantic City officials and neighbors see the project as having dual benefits: The campus gives the struggling seaside city, which has lost a lot of its casino business, a prestigious shot in the arm, and brings educational opportunity closer. At the same time, Stockton, which is out of room to build on its main Galloway Township campus, gets space to grow, a base rich with internship opportunities for students, and another identity that university officials hope will add national, even international, appeal.
"People know Atlantic City. They don't necessarily know Galloway," said Diane D'Amico, Stockton's spokesperson.
Stockton recently announced it's in negotiations to purchase one of the last remaining vacant casinos, the former Atlantic Club, just blocks from the new campus. More residential housing and programs in visual and performing arts and education are among options Stockton officials are interested in exploring for the new space, said Michelle McDonald, associate vice president for academic affairs.
Over time, Kesselman anticipates the campus growing to several thousand students.
New Jersey has labeled the state university an "anchor institution" for Atlantic City, expected to boost business and economic development.
"I think we are going to be part of the solution — we are not the panacea, but we are part of the solution to some of the conditions that Atlantic City has faced over the years," Kesselman said.
At the same time, he hopes the new campus will help stem some of the "outmigration" of high school students who leave the state to go to college. New Jersey consistently has been one of the top exporters of college students.
The project follows a failed attempt several years ago to open a campus at the former Showboat casino.
Stockton faculty are generally upbeat about the expansion, though a bit nervous about the rapid growth, with more than 9,500 students expected this fall, including about a third more freshmen than two years ago.
Donnetrice Allison, faculty senate president and an associate professor of communication studies and Africana studies, who will teach a class at the new campus this semester, said Atlantic City is full of opportunity.
"There are so many places that students can learn and work," she said.
Senior Jermaine Harvey was eager to live there, given that he grew up in Atlantic City.
"I'm very excited to see what Stockton is doing in my hometown," said Harvey, 24, a psychology major.
Stockton becomes only the second university in the state to offer oceanfront housing. Monmouth University, a private school in West Long Branch, offers two oceanfront housing options for more than 200 students. Nationally, few schools offer such an amenity. Many that do are in Florida, California, the Carolinas, and Hawaii.
The residence hall is open to sophomores, juniors, and seniors. The university offers 12-month leases for students who want to stay year-round, Kesselman said.
Room rates range from $4,600 to $5,400 per semester, depending on room type. (Those with 12-month leases pay more.)
More than 100 courses, both undergraduate and graduate, will be offered at the campus, with about 1,300 students attending. A new degree in community leadership and civic engagement, a class called "the science of waves," and programs in social work, business, hospitality and tourism, and organizational leadership are among the areas of study.
Free shuttles between the two campuses, about 15 miles apart, will run every 45 minutes from 7:30 a.m. to midnight. There's also a university parking garage next door.
The site is surrounded in part by residential property but also small businesses. About a half-mile away is the Tropicana Casino, its sign visible from campus.
City officials and neighbors have been supportive.
"It's going to bring jobs, education, and other developmental opportunities to the city," said Marty Small Sr., Atlantic City Council president and a 1998 Stockton graduate.
The Chelsea Residents Association plans to hold its monthly meetings at the academic building, beginning in September, said Carol Ruffu, association president.
"It's going to rejuvenate the whole neighborhood," Ruffu said.
The Atlantic City campus in a way brings Kesselman full circle.
The Galloway campus wasn't ready for Stockton's 1971 opening, so the 1,000 students and their professors went to a temporary location for three months — the old Mayflower Hotel in Atlantic City.
Since then, the Galloway campus has expanded dramatically, adding a campus center in 2011, a science building in 2013, and a second science building and a health sciences building in May. But much of its 1,600 acres, nestled in the Pinelands National Reserve, can't be developed.
Freshman enrollment grew more than 30 percent last year, as the school recruited and admitted more students; this year, it took more than 80 percent of applicants.
"We knew we were adding 533 beds," Kesselman said. "We had to really aggressively recruit last year and this year to be sure we were at capacity."
This year, about 1,600 freshmen are expected, Kesselman said.
Kesselman has a photo of the Mayflower in his office, hanging above a screen where he shows presentations and plans for Stockton's Atlantic City campus.