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Finally, Cape May County will get what it deserves.
After many years of discussion and exploration, Cape May will no longer be the only one of New Jersey's 21 counties without its own or a joint community college. Under the joint community college agreement signed in August by officials from Atlantic Community College (ACC) and Cape May and Atlantic counties, a full-service campus will be built in New Jersey's southernmost county by 2001. However, expanded services and course offerings will be provided at existing facilities in Cape May beginning next semester.
The creation of a joint college committed to meeting the needs of Cape May citizens and employers will substantially increase access to higher education, enabling more residents to pursue postsecondary degree programs, training programs, and continuing education. Not only will these individuals benefit intellectually and financially, but the entire region will be strengthened by the expanded educational, economic, and cultural opportunities.
With a larger and more stable enrollment and tax base, the joint college will be able to enhance programs and services in both Atlantic and Cape May counties. The new college plans to enrich current academic programs, particularly in areas that are critical to the regional economy, such as travel and tourism and marine science.
The joint college agreement was a long time coming. It would not have been possible without the perseverance and determination of many individuals and groups. For years, citizens and leaders of Cape May County sought options to expand access to higher education. Their persistence has paid off.
The Commission on Higher Education, New Jersey's statewide higher education coordinating body, considered the need for expanded postsecondary education opportunities in Cape May in 1995. We saw a strong demand for improved access to high-quality degree programs and certificates as well as continuing education, and we advocated a bi-county approach as the most cost-effective way of addressing these critical needs.
Following our report, the Atlantic County freeholders and ACC officials joined with Cape May officials to find a collaborative solution to the region's educational needs. Together, they worked diligently to overcome political boundaries and substantial obstacles. Through long and difficult negotiations, they persisted in seeking a creative and fair approach to funding a joint college.
Their tireless efforts resulted in an agreement that provides for shared funding by the two counties based on the proportion of credits their citizens take and shared representation on an expanded board of trustees based on each county's proportion of the two-county population. This win-win arrangement is a wonderful example of how higher education partnerships can improve services in a cost-effective manner. The joint college agreement is in sync with the Commission's long-range plan, which emphasizes collaborative approaches to achieving New Jersey's vision of higher education excellence, access, and affordability.
To demonstrate our support for the efforts of Atlantic and Cape May counties, the Commission recommended that the Legislature reallocate $645,000 from the Jobs, Education, and Competitiveness Bond Act for construction or improvement of college facilities in Cape May; this proposal is now pending in both houses (S 755/A 1771). We also offer our strong support for the legislation needed to approve the proposed shared funding mechanism (A 2410) and we urge state lawmakers to act expeditiously to bring the joint college agreement to fruition.
The citizens and leaders of Atlantic and Cape May counties have an unprecedented opportunity to shape the future. Over the next few years, they must create a college that meets the unique educational and economic needs of New Jersey's southeastern counties. In doing so, they ensure the future preparedness and prosperity of the citizens, the region, and the state.