From Normal to Extraordinary: The History of Rowan University
Rowan University has evolved from its humble beginning in 1923 as a normal school, with a mission to train teachers for South Jersey classrooms, to a comprehensive public research university with a strong regional reputation.
In the early 1900s, many New Jersey teachers lacked proper training because of a shortage of schools in the state that provided such an education. To address the problem in South Jersey, the state decided to build a two-year training school for teachers, known then as a normal school.
The town of Glassboro was an early favorite because of its excellent rail system, harmonious blend of industry and agriculture, natural beauty and location in the heart of South Jersey. Several towns in the region competed to be the site of the new normal school because of the economic benefit and prestige such an institution would bring.
In 1917, to sway the decision in their favor, 107 residents of Glassboro raised more than $7,000 to purchase 25 acres, which they offered to the state for free if the borough were selected as the site. The tract of land included the Whitney mansion (now known as Hollybush) and carriage house. Before the purchase, the entire property belonged to the Whitney family, prominent owners of the Whitney Glass Works during the 1800s. This show of support, along with the site's natural beauty, convinced the selection committee that Glassboro was the perfect location.
A Strong Foundation
In September 1923, Glassboro Normal School opened with 236 students arriving by train to convene in the school's first building, now called Bunce Hall. Dr. Jerohn Savitz, the institution's first president, expanded the curriculum as the training of teachers became more sophisticated.
Despite the rigors of the Depression, the program was expanded to four years in 1934, and in 1937 the school changed its name to New Jersey State Teachers College at Glassboro. The college gained a national reputation as a leader in the field of reading education and physical therapy when it opened a clinic for children with reading disabilities in 1935 and added physical therapy for the handicapped in 1944. The college was one of the first in the country to recognize these needs and was in the forefront of the special education movement.
Rowan's second president, Dr. Edgar Bunce, created a junior college program in 1946 to serve World War II veterans taking advantage of the GI Bill.
In the 1950s, Dr. Thomas Robinson, the University's third president, expanded the curriculum, increased enrollment and added several buildings to the campus. In 1958, the school's name was changed to Glassboro State College to better reflect its mission.
A Historic Summit
The University received worldwide attention when it hosted a historic summit conference between President Lyndon Johnson and Soviet Premier Aleksei Kosygin in Hollybush. The University was chosen because of its strategic location midway between Washington, D.C., and the United Nations in New York City, where Kosygin was scheduled to speak. The meetings between the two leaders, held June 23-25, 1967, led to a thaw in the Cold War and eased world tensions.
Rapid Growth to Serve Needs
The University's fourth president, Dr. Mark Chamberlain, guided the college through its next phase of growth as enrollment doubled and the college became a multi-purpose institution. As new majors and a Business Administration Division were added, four divisions grew into schools and a board of trustees was formed. In 1969, the University opened a campus in Camden to expand its educational services. With a 1978 Division III National Championship in baseball, the first of 11 national championships for the institution, the athletic program established itself as one of the premier athletic programs in the country.
The college’s fifth president, Dr. Herman James, assumed the leadership of the institution in 1984. Under his direction, Rowan expanded by establishing the first doctoral program among the state's public institutions and adding the Colleges of Engineering and Communication. Dr. James also was responsible for the construction of Campbell Library, the Student Recreation Center and Rowan Hall.
A Transformative Gift
In July 1992, industrialist Henry Rowan and his wife Betty donated $100 million to the institution, then the largest gift ever given to a public college or university in the history of higher education. Later that year, the school changed its name to Rowan College of New Jersey to recognize its benefactors’ generosity. The Rowans’ only request was that a College of Engineering be created with a curriculum that would address the shortcomings of engineering education at that time.
The college achieved University status in 1997 and changed its name to Rowan University under Dr. James’ leadership. The College of Engineering quickly earned national accolades for its successful new curriculum.
Dr. Donald J. Farish was appointed as the sixth president in July 1998. Under his leadership, the University implemented an aggressive improvement plan that addressed academic and student support initiatives as well as campus construction and renovation projects.
Major construction projects included the University townhouses; Science Hall; Education Hall; and the Samuel H. Jones Innovation Center, the first building of the South Jersey Technology Park at Rowan University.
During his tenure, the University also entered into a public-private partnership that led to the construction of Rowan Boulevard, a $300-million, mixed-use redevelopment project that links the campus with Glassboro’s historic downtown. The corridor features student and market-rate housing, a Barnes & Noble collegiate superstore, a Courtyard at Marriott Hotel, an urgent care center and numerous retail and dining outlets. Work is underway on other facilities.
A Broader Mission
During this period, Rowan founded Cooper Medical School of Rowan University—the first new medical school in New Jersey in more than 35 years and the first-ever M.D.-granting four-year program in South Jersey—in partnership with Cooper University Health Care.
The medical school welcomed its first class in the summer of 2012 into a new, six-story building adjacent to Cooper University Hospital in Camden. Close to 3,000 students applied for 50 spots in the medical school's charter class, which graduated in May 2016.
The Board of Trustees named then-Provost Dr. Ali Houshmand as interim president in July 2011 and then the University’s seventh president in June 2012.
As provost, Dr. Houshmand established the College of Graduate and Continuing Education and started Rowan’s online education program, which now are part of Global Learning & Partnerships. As president, he dramatically reduced institutional expenses and increased revenue while expanding enrollment and academic programs.
In 2012, several of the colleges were restructured and schools were created, among them the Colleges of Business, Communication & Creative Arts, Education, Engineering, Humanities & Social Sciences, Performing Arts, and Science & Mathematics.
During 2016-17, the University will open Holly Pointe Commons, freshman and sophomore housing strategically located on Rt. 322, and new buildings for the William G. Rohrer College of Business and Henry M. Rowan College of Engineering, which will enable the high-demand programs to double their enrollment.
N.J. Medical & Health Sciences Education Restructuring Act
On July 1, 2013, Rowan again changed dramatically when the New Jersey Medical and Health Sciences Education Restructuring Act went into effect. The Restructuring Act designated Rowan as the New Jersey’s second comprehensive public research institution, transferred the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey’s School of Osteopathic Medicine to Rowan and partnered Rowan with Rutgers-Camden to create health sciences programs in the City of Camden.
Rowan became the second institution in the nation to have both a D.O.-granting medical school (RowanSOM) and an M.D.-granting medical school (Cooper Medical School of Rowan University). The transfer of programs also led to the creation of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and gave Rowan its third campus, with Stratford joining Glassboro and Camden, New Jersey, as homes to Rowan programs.
Rowan has attracted the attention of national organizations that evaluate colleges and universities. U.S. News & World Report consistently ranks Rowan University among the top tier of Northern Regional Universities and among the top three public institutions in the category, and includes the Henry M. Rowan College of Engineering among the best institutions where the highest engineering degree offered is a bachelor's or master's. The Princeton Review includes the William G. Rohrer College of Business among its best business schools yearly.
The University has received more than a dozen awards for green initiatives since 2007. Recently, The Princeton Review listed it in its “Guide to 322 Green Colleges.”
Rowan continues to expand its programs and partnerships. Among the most recent—and vital to higher education in New Jersey—was its June 2015 partnership with the former Burlington County College (now Rowan College at Burlington County) to improve access to affordable four-year undergraduate degrees. That move followed one two years earlier with then-Gloucester County College (now Rowan College at Gloucester County) to establish a similar arrangement that enables students to pursue Rowan bachelor’s degrees at the county college or transfer seamlessly to the University after earning an associate’s degree and meeting set standards.
Today, Rowan's approximate 16,100 students can select from 74 bachelor’s, 51 master’s, four doctoral degree and two professional programs— along with undergraduate and post-baccalaureate certificates—in colleges and schools across four campuses.
From the modest normal school begun 90 years ago, Rowan University has become an extraordinary comprehensive institution that has improved the quality of life for the citizens of New Jersey and the surrounding states.