The Cumberland County freeholders have prioritized education, because education continues to be the passport to meaningful employment and economic growth. There has been much public discussion about the future of Cumberland County College, a good deal of it filled with misinformation and rumors.

The freeholders are asking the Cumberland County College Board of Trustees to approve a resolution in support of exploring an opportunity to regionalize and become one institution with Rowan College at Gloucester County.

The potential joinder agreement is regulated by the Middle States Accreditation procedures. The New Jersey Department of Education and the boards of trustees of Cumberland and Gloucester must also approve. There are guiding principles that must be followed as outlined under NJAC for Education, 18A:64A-24.

The first step must be an authorizing resolution from Cumberland and Gloucester boards of trustees authorizing the MOU. The process can take up to eight months and at the end of the investigation either party can approve or decline to move forward.

As initially proposed to be explored, there would be several ways students could affordably earn a four-year degree from Rowan University. Freshmen students in the Rowan Choice Program could have a campus residential experience by living on Rowan’s Campus while attending classes at one of the community college campuses. This option, which encourages students to pursue a four-year degree, enables students to be university students while paying the lower community college tuition. This results in students earning a four-year degree for under $30,000.

Students can save significantly on the cost of a four-year degree through the 3+1 program. For selected programs students can take classes for three years at the community college, paying the lower tuition rate, and then attend Rowan for their final year at the university rate. Students greatly reduce their debt load and the college gains an additional year of enrollment.

The direct Rowan pathway would be only one of the choices providing access to a four-year degree. The current University Center would maintain the four-year relationships with their college partners providing choice for the students who may not wish to attend Rowan. Students can still transfer to their own personal college of choice at the end of community college experience.

Students wishing to pursue a degree in the medical profession will have direct access through a relationship with Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine. Inspira Healthcare has an existing location in Vineland with its newest location under construction in Mullica Hill. We have the opportunity to incorporate the best practices of both institutions to generate career advancement for residents. The potential to develop an educational allied health program at the Cumberland campus and the ability to expand the nursing program at the Gloucester campus would significantly enhance career opportunities.

We envision this southern New Jersey corridor incorporating educational, work force and medical training programs that will link residents of Cumberland and Gloucester counties to future economic opportunities. The opportunities for residents are endless!

Some facts: Student enrollment dropped over the last 5 years; a 26 percent decline in credit enrollment since 2013. Burlington and Gloucester have both increased enrollment since forming their partnership with Rowan. CCC’s current operational budget gap projected at $2 million if no shared services are implemented. If the collaborative proposals offered by the CCTEC and CCIA are implemented, that projected budget gap is reduced to $750,000.

Revenue at CCC is tied directly to enrollment, and revenue continues to decline. CCC solvency has been sustained through draconian cuts to administrative expenses resulting in exhausting all reasonable options for significantly reducing the budget.

It is important to recognize the educational opportunities of this potential joinder agreement. In today’s world, every opportunity must be explored. If we do nothing to affect the trends listed above, we may lose our beloved county college. Change is never fatal but failure to recognize the need for change can be. 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.

We encourage and welcome an open dialogue and hope that the information shared will be a firm basis for a fair and honest discussion about reaffirming the freeholders’ commitment to education, particularly for existing and future students attending CCC.

Joe Derella, of Millville, is director of the Cumberland County Board of Freeholders.