This month Rutgers University went through what is being called the largest university merger in U.S. history. The result is that New Jersey's pre-eminent public university is now a world-class player.

Rutgers has taken over six schools that were part of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, a scandal- and debt-ridden institution. As you might imagine, the merger of so many institutions - each with its own procedures and computer systems, hasn't been easy.

But the final product holds the promise of being an educational and economic powerhouse. Think of what Penn State or Ohio State mean to their respective states. That's the kind of influence the new Rutgers could have in New Jersey.

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The original plan, recommended by an advisory committee last year and fast-tracked by Gov. Chris Christie, would have given Rutgers-Camden to Rowan University in Glassboro. The pushback against that idea, from Rutgers-Camden students, faculty and alumni, improved the final merger. The Camden campus will remain part of Rutgers, but it and the Rutgers-Newark campus will have more independence, including their own chancellors and direct state funding. Rutgers-Camden and Rowan will jointly launch a college of health sciences.

Rowan also benefits by taking over UMDNJ's School of Osteopathic Medicine and the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences in Camden County. The now-larger Rowan, which opened a medical school last year, also becomes one of the state's three research universities. It has already launched three doctoral programs and will soon add a fourth. Rowan expects to be able to attract more distinguished faculty as well as more grant money and endowments.

Rowan has ambitious expansion plans and expects to double its enrollment, to 25,000 students, within 10 years. That could go a long way toward correcting the imbalance of higher-education opportunities between the northern and southern sections of New Jersey.

All this is good news for New Jersey students. One of the goals of the merger is to keep more of the state's graduating high school students in New Jersey. The new Rutgers should be a draw for those students.

So will an expanding Rowan University. And that school's growth should bring economic and cultural benefits to the surrounding communities. Just as a stronger Rutgers-Camden - already a pillar of stability in one the state's most troubled cities - should help strengthen that community.

This transition hasn't been easy, it hasn't been without controversy, and the growing pains aren't done yet. But over time the changes should mean greater opportunities for students and residents of southern New Jersey.

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