Dr. Susan Cole, Montclair State:
Reversing the New Jersey Brain Drain
Concluding her fifth year as president of New Jersey's second largest university, the first woman to have been chosen to head Montclair State, Dr. Susan Cole recalls how early on she saw the position as an opportunity and a challenge to realize her "ambition for the institution," to ensure its potential to make "huge strides" not only for its 15,000 undergraduates and graduate students but for New Jersey. This larger sense of community has changed over the last few years in only one regard: it has deepened. Though she brought to her new position experience honed at the helm of Metropolitan State University in Minneapolis/Saint Paul and as Vice President for University Administration and Personnel at Rutgers and Associate University Dean for Academic Affairs at Antioch, Dr. Cole also brought passion, now intensified, about the "moral obligation" of institutions of higher education. Going to college remains as much "the quintessential part of the American dream" as it was for her immigrant parents who worked hard and taught her the "value" of work.
An articulate activist on behalf of Montclair State and of New Jersey, the nation's "gateway state" for immigration, with the country's fifth-highest growth rate of high school graduates, but also with the "highest net out-migration of baccalaureate-seeking students in the nation," President Cole effectively argued in the April 2003 issue of the New Jersey Reporter that the state's economic well being depends on reversing years of "under-building" for its 12 senor public colleges and universities. The words of this former professor of English are not merely rhetorical. Nor is her presence on Governor McGreevey's Education Cabinet or service as a trustee of The Public Policy Center of New Jersey matters of political convenience. Quality education has her "heart and soul."
Strengthening higher education in New Jersey means ensuring that high school graduates have the opportunity to pursue quality education in their state, the most densely populated state in the country. "New Jersey residents, you know, love New Jersey," the president chuckles. And they are applying in overwhelming numbers to Montclair State. Why? Rigorous academic programs, career preparation, closeness to home and cost. At $5,500 a year, Montclair "is quite a bargain." But bargains alone do not explain the university's growing reputation. No doubt because of years spent "teaching her heart out" at The City University of New York, President Cole knows what is significant and what must be better funded. For students, "worth" means small classes, a curriculum based in the arts and sciences, including the classics, music, the life sciences, and business, not to mention the College of Education, with its nationally recognized Center for Pedagogy, its emphasis on liberal arts disciplines and its "philosophy of preparing students to function in a democracy." For faculty "worth" means a "balance of instruction and scholarship."
Though the New Jersey Reporter article does not focus on Montclair State, the university has obviously flourished under the leadership of President Cole, as data and deeds attest. Enrollment has grown dramatically over the past five years; curricula have responded to civic needs, realized, for example, in a new doctoral program in Environmental Management; and the physical plant has been revitalized and expanded, including four new residence halls, known as "The Village at Little Falls," a new recreation center, and plans already underway for a 60-class technology hub and a conference center. But most to the heart of this former teacher, and central to the quality of any institution of higher education, has been the recent recruitment of top-level faculty, many from the ivies. They posed recently for a color photo in The Chronicle of Higher Education-front-page testimony to Montclair State on the move.#