MAYS LANDING — The building may not be huge, but behind it are all the resources of the state’s flagship university, Rutgers’s new president Robert L Barchi said Friday at the dedication of the Rutgers Lifelong Learning Center at Atlantic Cape Community College.

While other four-year colleges offer courses or degree-completion programs at county colleges, the new Rutgers center represents the first time a four-year New Jersey college has actually built its own building on a community college campus.

“This building is an investment ,” Barchi said. “I am proud to know that it will make a difference.”

Officials from Rutgers and Atlantic Cape formally cut the ribbon dedicating the new site Friday, but classes for about 300 students have already begun in the new $7.5 million 22,000-square-foot building. The center offers bachelor’s degree-completion programs in 10 majors for students who have already earned an associate’s degree or equivalent credits. Programs are affiliated with Rutgers-Camden and classes are taught by Rutgers faculty.

Rutgers also offers degree-completion programs at Brookdale Community College in Monmouth County and Raritan Valley Community College, which serves Somerset and Hunterdon counties.

Atlantic Cape President Peter Mora said the building is an example of the mission of Atlantic Cape to create opportunity by providing access to superior education programs.

“Our primary goal is to maximize student success,” he said.

Rutgers professor Raphael Caprio, who led the effort to expand Rutgers’ programs to community colleges, said they celebrate not just the building, but the opportunity it represents.

“It’s really about students who might not have access to the other campuses,” he said. “It represents a shift in the Rutgers attitude. Community colleges must be full partners in how we serve students.”

Caprio said research has shown that community college graduates who transfer to Rutgers with at least a 2.5 grade point average (or a C-plus) graduate at the same rate as students who start at Rutgers as freshmen.

He said when in the past state colleges would refuse to accept credits from the county colleges they were “gatekeepers gone bad” of higher education in New Jersey.

‘We are best when we acknowledge that we each have a role,” he said.

Rutgers began offering courses at Atlantic Cape in fall 2006, with 14 students attending classes in a trailer that didn’t even have bathrooms. Since then 140 students have earned Rutgers degrees at Atlantic Cape.

One of them is Frankie Williams, of Mays Landing, who got his degree from Atlantic Cape in 2009 and a bachelor’s in criminal justice from Rutgers in 2012. He urged college officials to consider offering a master’s degree in criminal justice in the new building.

“It was paramount for me to be able to stay close to home,” Williams said, adding that he has financial obligations, a fiancee and a mortgage. “I’d come to campus and see that big R on the trailer and I knew I wanted to go there. It’s a big deal for someone like me to have this opportunity. It was more economical and it made my fiancee happy.”

He said while the trailer was not fancy, the faculty and staff made his experience memorable.

“They were like seminar classes,” he said. “I still call some of my professors for advice. I feel very proud to walk into the new building.”

The building has 12 classrooms, a 24-seat computer lab, and student lounge. It can hold about 400 students during a typical class period, and there are plans for an expansion if necessary. Caprio said the new building represents higher education policy at its best, and he has no doubt the expansion will be needed.

Under the 50-year renewable lease agreement with Atlantic Cape, Rutgers students also get use of all facilities on the community college campus.

Barchi said after the ceremony that he wouldn’t be surprised to see Rutgers expand to other community colleges as part of the Rutgers mission to serve all residents of the state.

“It’s a way for us to be present in the community,” he said. He said the commitment of the students who attended classes in the trailer demonstrate the value of a Rutgers degree.

“They were willing to go to class in a trailer and our faculty was willing to come here to teach them,” he said. “It’s a real statement about a Rutgers education.”

Contact Diane D'Amico:

609-272-7241