Stronger higher education and medical schools lead to a stronger economy, and the New Jersey Medical and Health Sciences Education Restructuring Act, which went into effect this month, will contribute to both.

Last year, the Legislature approved, and Gov. Christie signed, the legislation, which is changing education in our state.

As of July 1, most components of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey were transferred to Rutgers University. University Hospital in Newark became an autonomous institution, and the School of Osteopathic Medicine in Stratford became a part of Rowan University.

Rutgers, University Hospital, and Rowan, already respected in their fields, will become even greater centers of excellence through the legislation. Additionally, with the School of Osteopathic Medicine joining Rowan, which last year partnered with Cooper University Health Care to found Cooper Medical School of Rowan University in Camden, Rowan becomes only the second university in the nation to offer both medical and osteopathic degree programs.

The Restructuring Act is especially important to South Jersey. Rowan now becomes the second comprehensive public research university in New Jersey, joining Rutgers in that status. Our region is home to about 2.5 million people, making it greater in population than 15 states. Many of those states have more than one research institution, and it is essential that South Jersey does as well.

For Rowan, research university status brings the opportunity to offer more graduate and doctoral programs. Rowan plans to focus its expansion on graduate offerings in health, science, engineering, and business.

These areas are important for several reasons:

Student demand is growing in these disciplines, and many leave the state to pursue degrees in these fields.

Seasoned health-care providers are retiring, and New Jersey faces a shortage of 3,000 physicians by 2020.

Research in these fields improves health care, technology, business, and other areas.

These fields spur the growth of businesses, which in turn benefits the economy.

The Restructuring Act also calls for Rowan to partner with Rutgers-Camden to create a College of Health Sciences in Camden. That college will be the latest part of the "eds-meds" corridor in the city, joining Cooper Medical School of Rowan University, Cooper University Health Care, Cooper Cancer Center, the Coriell Institute for Medical Research, Rutgers-Camden and its nursing program, and Camden County College.

Many people have worked on the Restructuring Act, but none were more dedicated than Sens. Donald Norcross (D., Camden) and Joe Vitale (D., Middlesex). Their efforts will help ensure that New Jersey remains a leader in higher education, health care, research, and business.

There is still much work to be done, but I look forward to seeing the impact of this legislation on Rutgers and Rowan, on higher education, on health care, on businesses, and on New Jersey.

Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester) is president of the New Jersey Senate. Contact him via