N.J. panel advances plan to merge universities

A New Jersey Senate committee has advanced the controversial measure that would reorganize the state’s system of higher education.

One of the bill’s primary sponsors, Sen. Donald Norcross, says two previous reorganization attempts failed miserably. He says this amended bill can improve the quality of education for students as it brings education and research together in a way to fuel job creation.

What’s more, he said during a four-hour hearing Thursday, Rutgers-Camden would retain its identity.

“A degree from Rutgers-Camden will be the same tomorrow as it is today. It will remain as an integral part of the larger Rutgers system, but it will have administrative independence,” said Norcross, D-Camden.

Sen. Ron Rice asked the Higher Education Committee to hold the bill, saying legislators were being duped.

“To move a bill of this magnitude out of this committee … that’s going to cost not millions but billions of dollars in transitioning, does not make any sense,” said Rice, D-Essex.

Sponsors say they expect to have cost estimates of the reorganization for the Senate Budget Committee to consider when it holds another hearing on the bill on Monday.

Gov. Chris Christie wants the restructuring framework in place by June 30.

The Assembly has not scheduled a hearing on the bill.

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