Rowan University president lays down 10-year vision, wants college to drive region’s economic growth

The long-time leader of the South Jersey institution has begun to seek community input to design his vision for the next decade.

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Rowan University (Joe Hernandez/WHYY)

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In his first decade leading Rowan University, Dr. Ali Houshmand oversaw the dramatic growth of the century-old institution. The Chronicle of Higher Education cited the school as the fourth-fastest-growing university in the country.

Now, he wants to chart the next decade for Rowan.

Houshmand said he sees Glassboro as a vibrant college town, on par with Madison, Wisconsin and Ann Arbor, Michigan, that keeps the local economy strong.

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“If you look around every corner of this country where there is a research university, you will see that the economy of that region is vibrant,” he said. “No matter what happens to the economy of that entire state within which that state university is located.”

Glassboro, NJ – OCTOBER 18, 2018: Ali A. Houshmand, Rowan University president offer opening remark at an event with former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. (Miguel Martinez for WHYY)

Houshmand insists he doesn’t want to embark on this project alone. He recently began seeking community input for the next 10-year plan.

“As much as possible, I want to get input from people so that we do it right, we do it collectively, and give ownership to everybody,” Houshmand said. “It’s not about Ali Houshmand. Tomorrow, I’m gone and somebody else comes in; the university lasts way past any one of us.”

Rowan’s potential is ‘being realized in real time’

Houshmand said the overall goal is for Rowan to impact the economy of South Jersey by training a workforce that attracts businesses and creates jobs.

“You want to see that the property values of our community increase as a result of having a campus community that is safe … beautiful and is vibrant,” he said.

Using the home of the University of Michigan as an example, Houshmand said the economy of Ann Arbor, when compared to the rest of Michigan, is “vastly different.”

There is $1 billion in construction projects in the pipeline, of which projects worth more than $660 million are underway.

On the most northern part of Rowan’s West Campus, the School of Veterinary Medicine is being built. Houshmand is looking into the possibility of building a 6,000-seat basketball arena and he is also hoping to have a new building for the School of Osteopathic Medicine.

A sign reads "Shreiber School of Veterinary Medicine in a field. An excavator is visible in the foreground.
The Shreiber School of Veterinary Medicine will be built on Rowan University’s West Campus in Harrison Township, N.J. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Then there is what he calls the “holistic wellness village” being developed on more than 200 acres.

“[It] will provide housing of various kinds… for different age groups and different demographics, but also various therapeutic activities,” Houshmand said.  “The Institute of Successful Aging from Rowan University will have input in terms of creating an environment where people not only live, but enjoy living in a place that is healthy.”

The university is already in the process of expanding its student center, which opened in 1974 and serves 6,000 students. More than 22,000 students attended Rowan in 2023. Also, the finishing touches are being placed on the Jean and Ric Edelman Fossil Park, which is expected to open in the spring.

Houshmand’s aspirations for Rowan as a force in South Jersey are gradually catching on, according to Janet Garraty, executive director of the Gloucester County Chamber of Commerce.

“Rowan Boulevard was a main piece of that and that’s been completed for a number of years,” she said. “All these other projects are all in play right now.”

Garraty said Glassboro is “almost unrecognizable” compared to when she attended Rowan under its former name of Glassboro State. She said the school’s potential is “being realized in real time” and believes Rowan will be credited for the region’s prosperity if it’s built right.

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“That’s where these partnerships come into place,” she said. “It will be an economic powerhouse for another generation in my estimation.”

Houshmand credits their focus on creating an inclusive, open, honest and transparent culture  for what has been accomplished at Rowan over the past 10 years. He also attributes the accomplishments to “taking intelligent risks and being successful.”

“I’ve done so many partnerships that our finances are good, therefore not only have we not laid off anybody, but over the past 10 years we have incredibly increased our total employees from 1,600 to 4,000 and our operating budget from roughly $180 million dollars to $650 million,” Houshmand said.

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