The latest groundbreaking at Raritan Valley Community College—as John King, Hunterdon County Freeholders Director, put it—has an “inexplicable link to the economy.”
“This is an investment in our community, and our investments are different than they were in 2007, when we were all trying to figure out how to economize as much as possible.” King said. “The economy is the most important issue for America today. If you don’t believe that then I’d like to sell you some stocks.”
King, along with other local business and political leaders, spoke on Aug. 25 at the groundbreaking for the 47,000-square-foot Workforce Training Center (WFTC), a building that will replace the Bridgewater Campus and other satellite locations as the home for RVCC's Workforce Development Program.
The WFTC will be located next to the retention pond across from Lot 2. Construction is expected to begin in October and end next summer. The building will cost about $10 million and have more space and hours of operation than the Bridgewater Campus.
A link to the local economy
Most of the workforce programs were developed under a $4.6 million grant in 2013 from the Department of Labor. These programs include Automotive Technology, Advanced Manufacturing Technology, Certified Nursing Assistant, Cosmetology, Massage Therapy, Environmental Control Technology, Phlebotomy, Exercise Science and other Allied Health fields.
John Trojan, Vice President for Finance & Facilities, says the State of New Jersey targeted these programs due to their expected growth and the need for workers in these fields.
The grant is part of a larger $500 million grant given to U.S. community colleges with the promise that the programs would link local employers to qualified workers. RVCC was the only college in New Jersey included.
“The model that we’re advocating is competency based,” Trojan said in an interview with The Record in the summer of 2014. “You’ve got to demonstrate success so that one, you don’t waste your time, and two so that we build on our reputation and that the industry wants our graduates.”
So far, the workforce program has proven successful. It earned Best Practice citation from the United States Department of Labor in 2013 and has an average completion rate of over 90 percent.
“This is only the beginning,” Trojan said. “The Workforce Training Center will enable us to expand our workforce programs. It provides a significant amount of space to do the programs properly.”
In addition, low student loan debt helps graduates earn a living. Tuition for automotive technology at Universal Technical Institute, one of the biggest for-profit technical institutes, is about $32,000. At RVCC it is about $11,000.
A link to RVCC’s economy
The WFTC is an investment not just in the growth of the local economy, but in the College economy as well.
One year before the $4.6 million Department of Labor grant, RVCC’s Strategic Planning Committee saw workforce programs as a potential source of growth and revenue for the College at the January 2012 Board of Trustees Meeting.
The committee also identified several enrollment issues at the meeting. Some of them—such as the decline of industries many degree programs serve and a shrinking number of full-time students—are offset when investments are made into workforce programs.
“Workforce development in community colleges is more advanced in the South and Midwest,” Trojan said in 2014. “Only in the last 5 to 10 years have more programs opened in the East. As the regular college type programs begin to decline, because of a decline in high school graduation rates, this is something we need to get into.”
While operating costs continue to go up, credit hours—the College's main source of revenue and growth—is going down. The three year decline since 2014 is 4.5 percent.
The College attributes part of the decline in credit hours to the decline in high school graduating classes. According to RVCC’s Strategic Planning Committee, high schools are the most likely sources of full-time students. The more full-time students who enroll, the more credit hours and revenue RVCC gains.
(While a a 21 percent growth of high school graduating classes occurred in in the Counties of Somerset and Hunterdon between 2008 and 2013, these classes barely changed in the last 3 years.)
A decline in credit hours creates fiscal challenges. As a result, the College recently increased tuition. The budget is currently funded 62.1 percent by tuition, 11.6 percent by the state and 25.7 percent by the counties. (Under the original agreement between the state, counties and College, tuition was supposed to be funded evenly between these three sources.)
One of two things must happen to stop another tuition increase. The first is the counties and state have to increase funding.
The other is enrollment has to go up—which may happen under an improved workforce program.
Paying for the building
The $10 million building is financed through $8 million from the state Higher Education Facilities Trust Fund—which requires no College or local counties to match—and $2 million from the State of New Jersey’s Chapter 12 Community College Building Fund. Trojan said in 2014 that bonds from the state came late and delayed construction.
Under the Chapter 12 program, counties issue bonds for the construction project. The state pays half of the cost of repaying the debt service and the Counties of Somerset and Hunterdon pay the remaining 50 percent.
Featured image caption:
Local business and political leaders at the groundbreaking for the Workforce Training Center. Photo by Gina Quiroz.
Contributor: Patty Busch