Norcross And Vitale Help Forge Agreement On Higher-Education Initiative

A view of the Senate Chambers from the 2010-2011 Senate Reorganization.

Plan Is A Milestone For New Jersey Academics, A Catalyst For Research & Development And Boost For Economic Opportunities

Trenton – Hailing it as a great leap forward for higher education in New Jersey, Senators Donald Norcross and Joe Vitale said a consensus reached yesterday has produced a strong plan to restructure the state’s higher-education network and restore the state’s historic reputation as a global leader in life sciences research.

Norcross (D-Camden) and Vitale (D-Middlesex) said the unprecedented initiative will benefit all regions of the state and take New Jersey’s institutions of higher learning to a new level of excellence.

“This is a win for everybody,” Norcross said. “It’s a win for New Jersey’s entire academic community. It’s a win for the medical facilities in all regions of the state. It’s a win for the business community, which will benefit from the advanced scientific research. It’s a win for the state’s economy, which will add good-paying jobs. And it’s a win for South Jersey, which will receive substantially more education-related funds from Trenton and for Camden, which will benefit from the infusion of new revenue, new development and more business activity.”

The agreement carries broad-based, bipartisan support from the political and academic communities, including Gov. Christie, Senate President Steve Sweeney, Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver and the Rutgers Board of Governors.

Combining the resources of state’s colleges, universities, hospitals and medical schools will help create a world-class network in the life sciences, capitalizing on new research and development to spur scientific progress and economic growth, the sponsors said. The reorganization will create the second major research university for New Jersey, capitalizing on the rapid growth and development of South Jersey, they said.

Vitale said merging academic medical institutions — such as the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School with the New Brunswick campus of Rutgers — was “a perfect match” that would pool intellectual resources and attract more federal funds to New Jersey. He said the same could be achieved in Newark.

“This restructuring is key to New Jersey regaining its proper standing as ‘Medicine Chest of the World,'” said Vitale. “For decades, our economy has been defined by the life sciences, but as other areas of the nation and world have strengthening their academic and research cores, we have been put more and more at a competitive disadvantage. No more. Now, we will have the institutions that can drive more research, create the next generation of doctors and scientists and once again make New Jersey an international magnet.”

Norcross said the amended initiative achieves his goal of substantial new state funding for education-related efforts throughout the state, including South Jersey. He said the agreement will likely triple Rutgers-Camden’s footprint in Camden, creating a surge of new development that will elevate the school’s already superb reputation and help revitalize the city.

Norcross and Vitale noted that the agreement will help reverse the anemic level of funding that Trenton has provided for institutions of higher learning. New Jersey ranks 47th of the 50 states in its investment in higher education, and 23rd in funding for medical research grants.

“As I insisted from the very beginning, there would be no legislation unless the Rutgers-Camden brand remained intact,” Norcross said. “I pledged that the Rutgers brand, which is nationally recognized and stands as an enduring symbol of pride for current and former students and faculty, as well as the community, would be protected. And that’s what this legislation will do.”

The proposed legislation comes after months of exhaustive negotiations involving the political, academic and business communities. Norcross said one of his main considerations was concern over the status of Rutgers-Camden. The legislation provides that Rutgers-Camden will remain intact and continue to operate under the Rutgers-Camden name.

“This shows what can happen when everyone works together to achieve a common goal, especially when that goal will result in a greatly improved education for the young people in this state and the revitalization of our communities,” said Vitale.

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