Trying to shake the stigma of the 13th grade with community colleges, some New Jersey schools are looking to attract students from beyond their home base by adding dorms on campuses to give students the full collegiate experience.

New Jersey Assemblyman Wayne DeAngelo, D-Mercer, introduced a bill, which just passed overwhelmingly in the Assembly by a vote of 71-4. The proposal was at the request of Mercer County Community College to allow county colleges to add on-campus housing.

He said all community colleges should have the option of deciding whether to add dorms to give students the choice of living on campus or commuting.

Not only are county students attending these institutions, but out-of-state students and even international students are coming to these New Jersey schools because these schools have some unique programs and specific degrees not offered anywhere else such as mortuary sciences and aviation, said DeAngelo. Some students are commuting up to two hours each way to get to school.

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Having dorms on campus would give these kids the option of staying on campus, thus attracting students from beyond, allowing them to enjoy the full collegiate experience.

DeAngelo said he figured out if he can help change the law to allow these community colleges to get that collegiate feel, it will give them the opportunity to have people come, stay there, and get their two or four year degrees by living on campus.

The bill allows these two year institutions to have dormitories and to partner with whom they sit fit, with a public/private partnership or construct the buildings themselves. This will help them grow from community colleges to bigger learning institutions, said DeAngelo.

The bill gives these schools flexibility legally to take whatever direction they want to grow the institution into, all while still receiving county funds.

"This is a win-win for everyone. It may not be for all community colleges but for those that choose this direction, this gives them that opportunity," said DeAngelo.

He said he does not believe it would be tough to build dorms on the existing campuses of our community colleges. He cited Mercer County Community College as an example saying it utilizes its space more efficiently. Mercer County can have a private/public partnership, much like The College of New Jersey in Ewing. The public can come in and utilize some of the stores with the dorms right above those stores.

It's still not clear how the addition of dorms would affect tuition and fees at county colleges, which are known to be much less-expensive than four-year institutions. DeAngelo said it would be up to each county to make those decisions. Some options would include having college foundations raise funds for construction or having schools enter public/private partnerships.

DeAngelo said all 18 New Jersey community colleges are on board. Now that the bill has passed the state assembly, it heads to the state senate for approval, then off to Governor Murphy's desk for his signature.

Currently, no New Jersey county college has on-campus housing.

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