Getting an “A+” from the state apparently has its perks. Montclair State University, after being designated a Public Research University by Gov. Chris Christie late last month, is preparing to launch a 40,000-square-foot computer science facility in the fall of 2018, and is setting its sights on other major expansion projects.
The school is on a roll in terms of academic prestige: Christie signed legislation July 21 giving Montclair State the Public Research University designation just one month after the college was ranked among the best schools for the money by Money Magazine. In addition to the prestige, the new designation allows Montclair State to once again enter into public-private partnerships to construct new facilities and make financial aid available to hundreds of more students. The university was able to enter into these P3 arrangements for real estate projects until 2012, when legislation that allowed public universities in the state to enter into P3s was allowed to expire.
College President Susan Cole told NJBIZ the new designation should also help Montclair State attract new students and reach its intended goal of expanding its student population to roughly 25,000 in the coming years, from its current population of a little more than 21,000.
“The designation puts us in an excellent position to compete for federal research dollars and generate corporate business partnerships,” Cole said. “It sets the table for us to be able to do the kind of things that big, comprehensive universities can do.”
Expansion at Montclair State — New Jersey’s second-largest higher education institution — has been underway for the past several years. Cole said the creation of the new $22.2 million computer science and information technology school is the latest part of that expansion.
Cole estimated that the university should be ready to cut the ribbon on the new facility next fall, and is actively seeking to partner with local tech companies to help run it.
“We are making big investments in data analytics and Big Data usage,” she said. “We are looking to create relationships with big businesses in that area.”
The new computer sciences facility is just the latest university expansion project. Last year, it formed a partnership with Sony to launch a 100,000-square-foot communications and media training school. The new school includes four studios, a 200-seat theater, a newsroom and a talk show set. Sony is providing laser projectors, studio cameras, production switchers and monitors.
“That facility will be literally the best broadcast facility on any campus in America,” Cole said. “Our students are being trained in the way that the media industry will be working in the future, not the way it was working 50 years ago.”
Another big part of the school’s expansion was the launch of its new nursing school last year. The school operates in Montclair State’s Partridge Hall, which was renovated to include simulation labs, an anatomy lab and a mock quarantine building.
“We built the nursing program from scratch,” Cole said. “Everyone else had legacy programs that were built for another time. We are building it in collaboration with the health care industry. The school will provide training that will be needed for the next 50 years, because health care is going to be very differently provided in the future.”
Cole said allowing the school to enter into P3s gives it more flexibility in its expansion plans, since it will allow Montclair State to once again seek funding from the private sector to finance new initiatives.
She envisions repeating the success the school had in 2011, when it was previously allowed to engage in P3s. During that year, Montclair State entered into a real estate partnership in which it teamed with Provident Resources Group to fund, build and operate a 2,000-bed dormitory for $211 million.
“That was the largest university housing complex ever built in the state of New Jersey,” Cole said. “We were also able to rebuild the entire energy infrastructure of the campus, and we were able to do those things without cost to the state and the university. We did them through leveraging private financing and private management in ways that support the public good.”
Cole said that, while there are not yet specific plans for a P3, something as bold as the deal struck by Ohio State University in 2013 could even be considered. That year, Ohio State became the first public university in the U.S. to enter into a non-real estate P3 arrangement, when it agreed to lease 35,000 parking spaces reserved for student and faculty members to QIC Global Infrastructure. In return, OSU received $483 million up front.
“The bill was just signed, so we don’t have anything like that on the table just yet, but mechanism of the P3 I’m sure will be very helpful to us,” she said. “P3s would enable us to build buildings with far more sensible regulations that are beneficial to the institutions involved and, quite frankly, the construction industry in the state. New Jersey has not been a good provider of resources to its public higher education institutions, so enabling us to be entrepreneurial (through P3s) is very much in the state’s interests.”