"The great promise of America is higher education," said McGreevey. "New Jersey doesn't have to recreate a system of higher education. We have an extraordinary one. Our community colleges have been a jewel."
This newly signed legislation, know as Chapter 12, will divide the funding evenly between the state and counties, and will add to the existing $330 million bonded for community college construction projects.
This will enable the construction of 30 to 40 new community college facilities statewide, which will provide classroom space, state-of-the-art labs and equipment, training facilities, and accommodate 30,000 more students and workers.
New HCCC campus
Currently under construction, the newest Hudson County Community College campus, located on 49th Street and Bergenline Avenue in Union City, is under way. Enrollment in HCCC alone has shown a 144% significant increase within the last 12 years, which is an example of the growing need for expansion among community colleges. As of Fall 2003 6,480 students are enrolled in HCCC.
Through the aid of this new bill, completion of new campus is anticipated to be a lot sooner than originally planned.
"This is a historic day," said Dr. Glen Gabert, president of Hudson County Community College. "This increase will help us to accomplish our master plan sooner. Our new campus will serve over 3,000 new students."
Gabert is both very pleased and grateful to the governor and sponsors of the bill, who through their efforts and leadership were able to bring it into reality.
"It wouldn't have happened without our Hudson County team," said Gabert. "I'm very excited about the tremendous amount of support from the state and county."
Three of the major advocates who pushed for this legislation were State Sen. Bernard Kenny (D-Hudson), state Assembly Speaker Albio Sires, who is also mayor of West New York, and Assemblyman Brian Stack who is also mayor of Union City.
"I've been pushing for community colleges ever since I became an assembly speaker three years ago," said Sires. "I see community colleges as a vehicle for our community."
"It's a great moment for Hudson County and for the state of New Jersey," said Stack. "When I was on the Board of Freeholders I made sure the site [for the new HCCC] was on 49th Street in Union City. It's great to see it coming to reality."
Celebrating higher education
After brief introductions by Gabert, Governor McGreevey, a native of Hudson County himself, began his opening remarks with, "It's good to be home, the sacred soil of Hudson County." He then proceeded to welcome many of the state's municipal and governmental leaders, as well as the presidents from various community colleges around the state and other education officials, who attended the signing of Chapter 12. McGreevey also made special acknowledgement of Sires and Stack.
"In every battle you need someone leading the charge," said McGreevey. "I want to be very clear. The strongest, most aggressive, dedicated advocate for community colleges in the state is Speaker Albio Sires."
Sires had initially pushed the signing of NJ STARS into law, which is scholarship program that will cover community college tuition and fees in full for students who graduate in the top 20 percent of their high school class.
"This bill complements the NJ STARS bill," said Sires.
According to McGreevey, another strong advocate in this mission has been Stack.
"You want something done, give it to Stack," said McGreevey. "He'll drive you nuts until he gets it."
Stack had been very insistent on bringing the new North Hudson campus of HCCC to Union City, which will co-exist with the new Hudson-Bergen Light Rail Station on 49th Street. According to Gabert, he anticipates the completion of the new HCCC campus approximately three years from now, with groundbreaking hopefully taking place within the next 12 to 14 months.
The additional $200 million in funding, which will be split into $100 million from the state and $100 million from the county, has provided this newly anticipated completion date.
"Hudson County Community College has a very profound influence on the county," said County Executive Tom DeGise. "Hudson County has always led the state in job growth, and we have very ambitious plans to continue."
After a few words from Speaker Sires and former students of HCCC who shared their experiences in community colleges, McGreevey, alongside fellow elected officials, signed the legislation into law.
"This is probably one of the greatest days for Hudson County and community colleges," said Dr. Charles T. Epps, Jr., State District Superintendent of Public Schools in Jersey City and Chairman of the Board of Trustees for HCCC.
"You have championed a worthy cause," said recent HCCC graduate Lemuel Thomas, 29, of Jersey City, directing his comments to the governor. "My experience at Hudson County Community College is one I will never forget, and can't ever forget."