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The transformer: Henderson is changing the culture and the campus at NJCU

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A $42 million expansion is just one of the projects of NJCU President Sue Henderson.
A $42 million expansion is just one of the projects of NJCU President Sue Henderson. - ()

In her first year as president of New Jersey City University, former high school math teacher Sue Henderson raised the average SAT score of incoming freshmen by 71 points, created partnerships with local high schools to better prepare Jersey City's teenagers for college and expanded the faculty by hiring 16 new professors.

In her second and most recent year, the college announced a $42 million expansion of its campus on 22 acres of land. The project includes a new residence building that will more than double the number of students living on campus, adding 425 beds to the existing 300 for the college’s 8,400 graduate and undergraduate students.

NJBIZ caught up with Henderson to discuss the progress on the expansion as well as her views on the future of the university and the industry as a whole.

NJBIZ: The university first announced the expansion back in August. What have been the developments since then?

Sue Henderson: NJCU is investing in the sciences. We are strengthening and expanding our core STEM foundation and working hard to provide a full array of opportunities for students to launch careers in these fields.

This winter, we will be breaking ground on a major expansion of our health and science building. With both public grant support and institutional monies, NJCU will begin construction of a 102,694-square-foot, (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)-certified science building. Facilities enhancements will include state-of-the-art, high-end microscopy and imaging; molecular biology equipment; and chemical characterization spectroscopy.

You’ll be hearing some really terrific news very soon about development on our 22-acre “West Campus” area and some major initiatives from the NJCU School of Business.

NJBIZ: What role, if any, did the Building our Future Bond Act play in the funding the project? How has the state government been performing in terms of supporting higher education in the state? What could it be doing better?

SH: We will receive approximately $35 million from state grants to enhance our science building and bring the facilities in line with modern technology and learning environments.

As recently as 1990, the state supported about 70-plus percent of the educational costs of undergraduate college students, but in recent years this percentage has declined. Today, the state supports only about 20 percent. Nowhere has the impact hit harder than among NJCU students, who are today responsible for shouldering the burden of the cost for their education. Our administration has worked very hard to keep costs low and budgets tight, and NJCU is proud to have the lowest tuition in the state. In fact, when NJCU students graduate, they begin their careers with the lowest debt compared to every other university or college in New Jersey. We are very proud of this.

NJCU has very successful programs and academic departments that prepare our students for productive careers. One of these which I am very proud of is the music business program, which was recently ranked by Billboard magazine as one of the Top 10 in the country.

NJCU students are deserving, accomplished, and eager. They are ready to make their mark on the work and we need to provide them the opportunities to do this. Greater support from the state to empower our students, enhance our programs, and modernize our facilities is needed, and necessary for the university to succeed in its mission.

NJBIZ: Several colleges in the state have recently appointed women presidents. What do you attribute this trend to?

SH: Actually, it’s a national trend. Many more women are now leading colleges and universities across the country. Many newly appointed presidents are the first women to serve as the CEOs of the educational institutions which they head. Many more qualified women are moving up the ranks from faculty to executive management, so the pool of viable candidates is broader-based than it was just a few years ago. Boards and search committees are also considering candidates from fields outside of academe, so that expands the pool of qualified candidates exponentially. The added diversity is a definite plus for New Jersey. As career opportunity grows for women, those who break the ‘glass ceiling’ can in turn mentor students who follow them. It’s a very positive trend.

NJBIZ: Jersey City has recently unveiled the “Make it Yours” campaign. What role does the university play in making the city not only a destination, but a place to take up residence?

SH: The Music, Dance, and Theatre Department at NJCU is already world-class, and it’s getting bigger! We are expanding into new venues throughout the city and expanding our program offerings to meet the needs of Jersey City’s growing population.

NJBIZ: One of the major focuses of the expansion is increased student housing. What sort of trends has the university seen in terms of students who commute versus live on campus?

SH: You’ll see some great things happening on NJCU’s campus in the coming months. We have minimal housing available now, but that will change. We’ve done a residential market study and found solid demand for additional student housing. We expect our residential capacity to triple in the next two years.

NJBIZ: What’s one prediction you have for the university in the coming year? How about higher education?

SH: NJCU’s vision is to be an outstanding state and regional institution, educating the leaders of today and tomorrow. Jersey City is the financial capital of New Jersey and hosts many of Wall Street’s back office operations as well as a number of growing global enterprises. The NJCU School of Business is poised for some tremendous growth this year, and in the years to come. The university has seen significant enrollment growth in business students and is making a strategic investment in the school. In the coming months, you will see some major news and initiatives about our investment.

E-mail to: andrews@njbiz.com
On Twitter: @andrewsnjbiz

Sue Henderson

TITLE: President

AFFILIATION: New Jersey City University (Jersey City)

ONE MORE THING: Henderson is a former high school math teacher and has, along with teaching at the collegiate level, more than 35 years of education experience.

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