Rowan University's South Jersey Tech Park is one of the most sophisticated research facilities at any college in the state. However, in terms of size, it is rather small. As a matter of fact, it consists of just one lonely building surrounded by acres and acres of open land.
However, the school is hoping that with the passage of the state's higher education bond referendum on election day, South Jersey Tech Park could be a lot bigger in the near future.
New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney appeared with Rowan University President Ali Houshmand on Wednesday afternoon to tour the school's Tech Park. The stop was the second of three on the day for Sweeney. He appeared at Richard Stockton College in the morning, and was slated to tour The College of New Jersey later in the afternoon.
The appearance is part of a push by Sweeney and administrators from various state universities to create support for the referendum.
The proposed higher education bond amounts to a total of $750 million. Of that, $300 million will go to state schools that are designated as research institutions. Another $250 million will go to the state's other public universities, $150 million to the county colleges and $50 million to the private schools in the state with the exception of Princeton University. The state has not approved a higher education bond since 1988.
Rowan earned a recent designation as a research institution by the state of New Jersey. Under this designation, Rowan is set to receive more money if the bond passes. The university set up displays showing the type of projects that the school hopes to move forward with if the bond is approved.
“It is going to impact generations to come,” said Houshmand, “because of the general disparity between north and south for higher education.”
The key objective of the bond, according to Houshmand and Sweeney, is to attract high tech companies back to South Jersey through having more sophisticated research facilities at Rowan and other universities. By doing so, it will create more job opportunities within the state.
“In order to raise the bar, we have to create more higher ed degrees,” Sweeney said. “I've been watching what other states have been doing. They're eating our lunch.”
Expanding the colleges will also create an economic boost for the universities directly as well as for the surrounding community. Houshmand noted that Rowan has had to reject qualified students who wanted to join the engineering program for the current school year due to capacity. Receiving funds through the higher education bond will help expand the university and increase the capacity.
There has been criticism directed toward the bond, mainly citing the amount of money and whether the funds will be used responsibly by the schools. Sweeney made note of the opposition on Wednesday, stating the all of the universities will make sure to use this funds to help fund higher research and improve the quality of education. He said that the $750 million will pay off down the line in the form of more money coming from the private sector throughout the state.
The tour that Sweeney took with Rowan administrators, staff and students showed off some of the research labs and advanced technology that the school boasts within the South Jersey Tech Park. The highlight of the tour was a virtual reality lab that allows doctors to look at a patient's body through a virtual scan. Rowan is the only university in the state with a virtual reality lab.
Expansion of the South Jersey Tech Park is just one of the projects that Rowan is hoping to move forward with in the coming years. More than 150 acres of open space surrounds the lone building currently in place. Houshmand said that the school hopes to potentially construct two more buildings in the park.
However, it will ultimately be up to the voters whether South Jersey Tech Park and other university projects in the state will have the money to become a reality in the near future.