Atlantic City has seen more than its share of plans and developments heralded as game changers that turned out to be less than transformative or even nothing. Since a recent report on the expected impact on Atlantic City of Stockton University’s campus there was produced by the college, a bit of such promotion wouldn’t have been surprising.
Instead, the forecast of the university’s long-term effect on the city economy by the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Stockton was impressively realistic, honest and even a bit modest. That made its case for expected benefits more convincing.
Economist Oliver D. Cooke, who prepared the report for the current edition of the center’s South Jersey Economic Review, researched the effects of new college campuses on three small cities — Nevada State College in Henderson, University of California Merced and Georgia Gwinnett College in Laurenceville. He found they didn’t quickly or radically transform their local economies — due largely to their small size relative to their cities’ economies — but did help in two important ways.
The most important is in upgrading the educational attainment for their communities and residents. That leads to a better trained and prepared workforce, higher wages and new economic opportunities. This will take time and ultimately be the most significant contribution of Stockton’s city campus.
The campus already is delivering the next most important benefit — anchoring and stabilizing a city neighborhood. Several new businesses have opened near the school, and AtlantiCare opened its first Urgent Care Center in the city on the campus.
The three cities studied each saw significant gains in professional and business services employment as a result of their new colleges, Cooke found. The Stockton campus should do the same.
There’s reason to believe the impact of the Stockton campus may be a little stronger than the three case studies in the report. Each of those campuses is several miles from the business districts of their host cities, while Stockton is in downtown Atlantic City. The city has designated a university overlay district around the campus to allow additional zoning uses and better integrate it with the community.
And while the comparable campuses are whole new institutions of higher education, Stockton’s is part of a larger, long-established university on the mainland — giving it a faster start and making possible more interaction and synergies.
Yes, the campus won’t transform Atlantic City quickly or on its own. It is, however, among a small number of very important contributors to the reinvention of the city, one certain to deliver increasing benefits to residents for many years to come.
Stories in a yearlong series examining the city’s path forward, Reinventing AC, appear frequently in the news pages. Join the conversation at ReinventingAC.com.