Passaic County Community College was dealt a setback Monday in its attempts to be one of the first two-year colleges in the state to offer a bachelor’s degree — at a fraction of the cost of those from a traditional four-year school.
The Paterson-based school and its counterpart in Union County both have put forth proposals to offer bachelors’ degrees in nursing, citing a need for more affordable programs.
But the plans are opposed by leaders of the state’s senior colleges, who say the two-year schools underestimate the investment needed in faculty in offering the degree and worry about the community colleges infringing on their roles.
The proposal was aired on Monday at a meeting of the New Jersey Presidents Council, a group made up of school leaders who make recommendations to the state’s secretary of Higher Education, Rochelle Hendricks, regarding new programming.
The council’s meetings generally feature broad agreement among members, but the proposal on Monday elicited prolonged, and sometimes passionate, discussion that went far beyond the proposals at hand in discussing the role of the schools, the need for more affordability in higher education and what some perceive as a lack of statewide coordination in New Jersey.
“We need a real master plan for higher education in New Jersey that talks about the costs,” said Harvey Kesselman, president of Stockton University.
The group voted against endorsing the baccalaureate bids by the community colleges in Passaic and Union by a vote of 19-18, which broke down largely as a division between community colleges and four-year schools. It will now head to Hendricks for a decision.
“What was clear today is that this was not about these two programs,” said PCCC President Steve Rose, who heads the presidents’ council. He noted the farther-reaching questions discussed during the debate on the issue and expressed hope they will be delved into by the state’s education chiefs.
Both PCCC and Union County College now offer two-year programs leading to RN degrees for registered nurses. The BSN is increasingly becoming the standard for employment, but just 29 percent of the students with RN degrees from PCCC go on to bachelor’s programs, Rose said.
William Paterson University in Wayne, which is just three miles from PCCC, offers a growing nursing program. But Rose said the issue is cost. Annual tuition and fees at William Paterson are about $12,240 compared with $4,400 at PCCC. The costs are significantly higher at private colleges and universities in the state.
Former community colleges in 22 states now offer bachelors’ degrees, and supporters of the plan in New Jersey said the issue was one of affordability and access.
“How dare we sit here and act as if it’s okay that a pathway is cut off because of affordability,” said Paul Drayton, president of Rowan College at Burlington, the community college in Burlington County.
But leaders of the four-year schools said nursing programs are expensive to run, and they worried, too, that approval of those programs might lead to others and further blur the distinctions between community colleges and four-year schools.
“I think there is a significant statewide policy issue here,” said Susan Cole, president of Montclair State University. “There are significant costs associated with baccalaureate education, and in a state that ill-supports its four-year institutions already, the notion of creating more is a very serious issue.”