Montclair State University President Jonathan Koppell knows how it looks: Big school bails out small school. That’s not the way he views Wednesday’s announcement that Montclair has agreed to help neighboring Bloomfield College financially until the two can find a way to partner.
This will be a collaboration, Koppell said. A win-win for both the schools and their students. And, if it goes the way the forward-thinking Koppell thinks it will, it may serve as a model for higher education in the state and elsewhere.
“I think the opportunity here is to come up with a model which benefits everybody,” he said “One where you create a pathway for Bloomfield to fulfill its mission in the most important sense — creating a pathway for students who often are not well-served by traditional institutions of higher education.
“The hope is that Bloomfield will do it better than ever — enhanced by the fact that it is connected to Montclair State University — and that it will have even better outcomes for the students that they serve.
“Montclair State University is enhanced by our relationship with Bloomfield. It will enable us to have an even bigger platform to bring our programs into the community, allowing more people to have access to our university than they currently do.”
Koppell said higher education needs to change. It needs to learn to collaborate, rather than compete. It’s the only way schools can stay current with the fast-changing needs of both students and the business world they are going to serve, he said.
“I think that the notion that every university has to find its way by itself — and that we all are just in a death-match competition for students — is old-fashioned thinking,” he said.
“The way to look at it now is, ‘How can we be working cooperatively to best achieve our objectives?’”
That will be determined in the months to come. And not just with Bloomfield.
Koppell, who has preached a new era of togetherness since he arrived on campus last August, said the school also is working on ways to partner better with others.
“At the same time that we’re doing this, we’re opening a physical presence with Union County College to make our educational opportunities more accessible to students there,” he said. “And we’ve opened up conversations with multiple community colleges across New Jersey to talk about how we can be better partners and innovate together.
“Yes, Bloomfield College is an important piece, but it’s part of a broader approach which says, ‘We can better serve our students and we can better serve communities if we work collaboratively rather than going it alone.’”
Moves like these don’t often play well with the college ranking services — which are perhaps the ultimate tail-wagging-the-dog scenario of higher ed.
Koppell laughs. They have never been important to him.
“We’re not going to make decisions based on rankings or any other superficial measure,” he said. “This is about achieving our mission.”
It’s about serving the community. And when neighboring Bloomfield — just 10 miles away — needed help, Koppell said Montclair was eager to make the neighborly move.
“If we’re going to talk about being a public service university that’s engaged in the community and focused on doing the right thing for all people in New Jersey, then we have to step up when we saw what the situation was at Bloomfield,” he said.
“I see this as a win for both institutions and — hopefully — for the communities that we’re dedicated to serving. It’s much, much more than a rescue, or whatever you want to call it. This is an opportunity to do something really innovative in higher education that advances the state.”