CHRIS MONDICS AND JONATHAN LAI, INQUIRER STAFF WRITERS
In an effort to spur economic growth in Camden and surrounding areas, leaders of a new agency established to coordinate health education at Rutgers-Camden and Rowan University say they expect to develop degree programs in a handful of health professions likely to see explosive growth in the next decade.
The three-month-old joint board of the two universities is targeting occupations including dental hygienist and physical and occupational therapist as part of a strategy to match South Jersey residents with future jobs. Board members say the plan is expected to play a key role in efforts to revive Camden.
“What it is going to be and what is going to take shape is a subject of discussion,” said Kris Kolluri, a former New Jersey transportation commissioner who is the board’s chief executive officer. “The way we will know in five years whether we have succeeded is whether we have trained enough people through our programs to get the jobs that are in demand.”
The Legislature created the board two years ago after efforts to force the merger of Rowan and Rutgers-Camden collapsed, and it reflects the view of many South Jersey political leaders that the universities should more closely tailor degree programs to needs of the region.
“The south [South Jersey] still has to join its forces together, and here is a possible way to do it,” said former Assembly Speaker Jack Collins, who is chairman of the board. “Why not work together here?”
For decades, health care has been a strong source of employment for inner cities, and board officials say its impact on Camden, and the rest of South Jersey, can be greatly enhanced by closely targeting educational programs.
“Both universities have strategic initiatives and plans that suggest growth in Camden,” said the board’s vice chairman, Lou Bezich. “So now the question becomes, how do they go about that growth?”
Kolluri, hired as the board CEO one month ago at a salary of $275,000, has been given much of the responsibility for the project.