BRIDGETON — Could a merger with Gloucester County help save Cumberland County College? The Cumberland County Board of Freeholders hopes so.
Last month, it was revealed that the county college was entering talks with Rowan College at Gloucester County to discuss creating a regional county college in a move to stabilize finances and increase enrollment as Cumberland County College faces a $2 million deficit.
Cumberland County College did not return a request for comment. Andrea Stanton, director of college relations at Rowan College at Gloucester County, said negotiations were taking place between the two freeholder boards.
“At this point in time, RCGC has nothing new to report about the merger,” she said.
Cumberland Freeholder Director Joe Derella wrote in a statement Friday in support of regionalization that the conversations at this point are only exploratory and that no commitments have been made.
Derella said declining enrollment has exacerbated the financial problems at the college, which have been stalled through administrative cuts over the years.
“If we do nothing to affect the trends listed above, we may lose our beloved county college,” Derella wrote. “If at the end of the day, both college boards of trustees see no benefit, then we have done our job. But to simply disregard this concept because of boundaries or home rule would be a missed opportunity that we cannot afford to take.”
A potential partnership could mean Cumberland County becomes part of the Rowan College family, which Gloucester County joined in 2014 when it was renamed from Gloucester County College after it struck a deal with Rowan University.
The deal did not change the funding or oversight structure of the county college, but did provide a seamless pathway to a four-year degree with Rowan University for students there.
In 2015, Burlington County College entered into a similar deal with the university and became Rowan College at Burlington County.
In his support for regionalization, Derella noted that both institutions saw increases in enrollment after they entered into those agreements. The students also saved money on a four-year degree, he said.
While tuition and fees at Rowan University cost a New Jersey resident about $13,500 per year — excluding housing — tuition and fees at a county college average $4,900 annually.
A program in place at RCGC allows select students to attend three years of community college before finishing their degree at Rowan University, increasing the savings.
A majority of Cumberland County College’s budget is funded through tuition and fees, but enrollment has decreased by 26 percent in the past five years, state data show.
On Monday, Derella said the freeholder board is tasked with approving a budget for the county college but also has a vested interest in providing educational opportunities for county residents.
“We, unfortunately, are constantly reminded that we are on the wrong end of a lot of important lists,” Derella said, noting the county has high rates of unemployment coupled with low graduation rates and low rates of residents with post-secondary degrees.
He said the county is hoping to change those rates through a variety of educational initiatives, some of which are through the college.
“We’re not a county that’s going to hide our challenges, we’re going to go after them aggressively, and we have made some progress, without a doubt,” Derella said.
The first step, he said, is a resolution from the Cumberland and Gloucester County boards of trustees authorizing the creation of a memorandum of understanding. Derella said approvals also are required from the secretary of higher education and the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. That process can take eight months, he said, with either party able to decline entering the regionalization agreement.
Derella said regionalization would not affect the other transfer agreements in place at Cumberland County College. He said the partnership would provide increased career opportunities in the growing medical field for county residents and create a “growth corridor” along Route 55.
“There’s a whole host of things that would have to occur, but the first thing is there has to be a willingness on all sides,” Derella said.