Why Montclair-Bloomfield is more about mission than merger

It’s not a scale play.

It’s not a real estate play.

It’s not an enrollment play.

“Let me tell you, there are a heck of a lot easier ways to add 1,200 students,” Montclair State University President Jonathan Koppell joked.

But the merger that will create Bloomfield College of Montclair State University — one that took a huge step forward Wednesday — is no laughing matter.

“It’s a mission play,” Koppell said. “It’s a ‘making sure that higher ed is working for every segment of the population in New Jersey’ play. That’s what this is about.”

Koppell was less than a year on the job at Montclair State when he learned his Essex County neighbor was in trouble. He knew he wanted to save Bloomfield College — not just absorb it.

The agreement that was announced Wednesday took steps to handle the business side of the deal — the mechanics of how Bloomfield College will wind down as an independent legal entity and transfer its assets, obligations and liabilities to Montclair State.

Now comes the creative part.

In the coming months, Koppell and Bloomfield College President Marcheta Evans and their teams will collaborate on just how this merger will work. Koppell insisted Wednesday he will not come off one belief: Bloomfield College as an entity must survive.

“There will be a differentiated Bloomfield experience,” he said. “Bloomfield is not just a location.

“Yes, the students at Bloomfield will have access to the resources and opportunities of Montclair State University — and we will help them take advantage of all we have to offer — but  being a student at Bloomfield College still will mean something in terms of their experience as a college student.

“It won’t be the same as being a Montclair State student.”

But don’t view that as a thought that the students will be kept separate. Koppell wants the opposite.

“We’re excited about the opportunity that having a presence in Bloomfield provides for the university and the programs that we offer currently at our Montclair campus,” he said. “We think there’s lots of different things that could really find a different audience and be engaging for learners in a way that may not be possible at our existing campus.

“We also think there’s going to be an exciting opportunity to engage the community around Bloomfield College and do interesting things. Take our education offerings, our entrepreneurship offerings, our health offerings, our arts offerings — lots of those things will really dovetail beautifully into the community.

“So, there is the future of the existing Bloomfield College and how we’re going to redesign it and make that an even more powerful asset for the community. But, then, there’s the whole other dimension of this, which is the opportunity to bring Montclair State University to a whole different set of community partners.”

Koppell, always looking to be innovative and entrepreneurial, said he views it as a chance to do both of those things — while potentially creating a new model for higher education in the process.

“We’ve got to keep pushing forward and trying new things,” he said. “Universities are going to have to think about how you work with community colleges and how you work with other institutions and how you create pathways for different types of students who need to learn under different conditions.

“Higher education has to adapt to the learner. Right now, we’re really good at telling people how they need to change to succeed with us. At a certain point, you have to say, ‘Here’s how we’re going to change in order to satisfy you.’

“Our goal is to build a Bloomfield College that actually meets learners where they are, instead of saying, ‘You need to conform to us.’”

Universities need to learn, too, Koppell said.

“I think it’s a learning opportunity for us to think about how we engage other partners to create opportunities for students and make sure that no one is left behind when access to higher education is as important as ever,” he said.

Don’t be confused. Koppell doesn’t think all colleges and universities need to be saved. Like everyone else, he knows the model will push some to close in the coming years.

Bloomfield College is the only four-year New Jersey institution to be recognized as a Predominantly Black Institution. It also is a Hispanic Serving Institution.

Koppell feels that distinction needed to survive — and he was thrilled to see he wasn’t the only one who felt that way.

“This should be seen as a really positive statement about New Jersey,” he said. “I want to be clear, this was not just the trustees of Montclair State University — the governor and his team stepped up, and so did the Legislature.

“They said, ‘We’re not just going to let this Predominantly Black Institution fade away. This is worth our attention and worth making investments.’”

That’s why it’s a mission play.

“The moral of the story is, ‘Not all institutions must survive, no matter what,’” he said. “There’s a distinctive purpose that’s served by Bloomfield College. It’s really critical. That’s what we’re responding to.”


Koppell admits the process is in the opening stages.

“It’s like buying a house — they’ve accepted the offer, now we have to work out the details,” he said.

But that didn’t prevent ROI-NJ from peppering him with questions. Here are few more questions and answers.

ROI-NJ: What are the next steps?

Jonathan Koppell: We have to design Bloomfield College of Montclair State University. What will it actually look like? How will it operate? That design is going to be key toward getting the relevant approvals and the plans for implementation. And all of those things need to be further along in order to close, which we’re hoping to do by June of 2023.

ROI: How would you describe the relationship between the schools? Is better to call it a satellite campus or a division of the existing campus, like an honors college or an engineering school?

JK: It is part of Montclair State University. It’s not going to have its own separate accreditation or anything like that. It’s going to be a constituent unit of the university.

If you think of Rutgers-Newark, they have their own administrative infrastructure and their own services and so on; it’s not like that. We’re going to be operating as one. But, like I said, it will be a differentiated student experience. We want the location to have its own feel. And we want the academic programs to offer something distinctive to the students.

ROI: Will Bloomfield College maintain its athletic teams?

JK: That’s actually one of the big design questions that we have to grapple with. It is our understanding that it is possible to maintain separate athletic programs under this structure, but we’re going to have to work with the NCAA to figure out how to do that.

ROI: Will Bloomfield be able to maintain its employees?

JK: We’re going to do our best to maintain all of the positions. And I think it’s important to realize that we are a very large university with a lot of positions. We think there are opportunities for people who work at Bloomfield College to join Montclair State University, and we’re going to do everything in our power to take care of people. That’s a huge part of our thought process right now as we move forward.

ROI: What will the diploma say?

JK: Bloomfield College of Montclair State University.