Rowan College at Gloucester County, entering its fifth decade, is rethinking itself. A plan unveiled by its president Tuesday would expand the community college's campus with seven new buildings, including student apartments to make the school a residential college.
"Community colleges are commuter schools. What we're proposing is to change that paradigm," Frederick Keating, the college's president, said. He emphasized that the plan was in its earliest stages, and a feasibility study will run through June. Information on cost will not be available until the study is complete, but Keating said funding would not come from students or taxpayers.
The first phase of development would expand the school's health programs, working with a local hospital system to bring an urgent-care center to Deptford Township and increase student enrollment in nursing and allied health disciplines. Construction would include a two-story, 40,000-square-foot medical office building; a two-story, 28,000-square-foot building; and parking for 232 cars.
Increasing medical services in Deptford would benefit all the town's residents, not just students, Mayor Paul Medany said.
"All of that helps Deptford Township. It brings the right kind of business here. It expands us out of the retail world and more into the medical world, which is what we're trying to do," Medany said.
In a significant shift away from the traditional community college model, a second phase of development would focus on student apartments with three new buildings — two 14,000-square-foot buildings and a 24,000-square-foot one — and parking for 148 cars.
A proposed third phase, mostly retail space and other services, would include a 16,000-square-foot building, 20,000-square-foot building, and parking for 95 cars.
"I'm very confident with phase one, I'm optimistic with phase two, and I think phase three needs more study," Keating said.
Keating unveiled the plans during a briefing with reporters Tuesday. He said he expects to release the study by July 1, "whatever that plan may be."
Keating said he expected the expansion to be financed on the model of the public-private partnerships behind projects such as Rowan Boulevard at Rowan University in Glassboro and Campus Town at the College of New Jersey in Ewing. Private developers put money into the work, under agreement with the schools. RCGC would own the land, but would spend no money on the development. Nor would the town or county.
"What we're doing now is just kind of feeling it and putting it out there," he said.
Like other community colleges, RCGC faces several long-term challenges, including limited state funding, a future decline in the number of college-age young adults, and rising costs. The college in 2014 entered a partnership with nearby Rowan University to create new ways for community college students to seamlessly transfer into the four-year university's bachelor's degree programs. Gloucester County College renamed itself Rowan College at Gloucester County to mark the change.
Since then, RCGC has sought to create and expand dual-enrollment programs with high schools in the area and increase its ties to Rowan University, creating a "3+1" program that allows students to spend a third year at the community college campus and be taught by Rowan University faculty.
"We are a junior college. But we are a hybrid," he said.
Medany welcomed the idea of bringing students from outside the region to live on campus.
"We'll never be a college town, just because we can't be, but if we can get several hundred units of student housing there, where the students could come and stay there and wake up and have fast-food joints and restaurants, that commercial hub, that'd be perfect," Medany said. "That would really fit into the vision of the place."