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The recent designation of several New Jersey higher education institutions as universities has some people asking, "what's in a name?"
In New Jersey, an institution that offers graduate and undergraduate degrees in a variety of academic disciplines and professional fields may seek status as a comprehensive university. Such institutions emphasize teaching, and are distinct from the state's six research universities, which place a heavier emphasis on basic and applied research and Ph.D. programs.
Being granted university status recognizes the level and diversity of programs that the institution already offers, and does not authorize the addition of doctoral programs or other new degrees.
The process by which a qualified public or independent college can seek recognition as a comprehensive university was implemented in 1993. So far, six institutions have completed the rigorous review required for university designation.
Montclair State University was the first institution to do so, followed by Rider, Monmouth, Rowan, William Paterson and Kean universities.
To qualify for university status, an institution must meet national standards for inclusion as a master's college or university in the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education and demonstrate that it has met New Jersey eligibility criteria for at least five years.
These New Jersey criteria require the institution to demonstrate that it has:
While some states have acted legislatively to confer the university designation to all qualified public institutions en masse, New Jersey has opted instead for a rigorous review process that enables public and independent colleges that meet these criteria to seek university status. Not every institution that offers graduate programs will choose to do so.
The process begins with a petition of intent and a detailed proposal filed with the New Jersey Commission on Higher Education, the state coordinating body for higher education. Then, two recognized authorities on graduate education who are independent of all New Jersey higher education institutions must complete a comprehensive review and report favorably on the proposal. Finally, the Commission considers the matter, voting to confer university status and approving a name change if it finds that the institution meets all requirements.
Institutions often find the process itself as beneficial as their new designation -- the self-examination and outside review help them to clarify and refine their mission and future direction.
University status itself does not enable an institution to expand its current mission or program offerings, and permission to offer doctoral degrees must be sought through a separate and equally rigorous process. Therefore, gaining university status does not inherently impose additional costs on students or taxpayers. The new designation simply permits an institution to change its name to reflect its status more accurately and in a manner consistent with peer institutions around the nation.
New Jersey is fortunate to have a strong higher education system with 56 two- and four-year institutions that meet the needs of its diverse population. We can all be proud of the institutions that have achieved university status. In an era when knowledge and technology are advancing at a breakneck pace, their commitment to graduate-level education bodes well for New Jersey and its citizens.