Newark may be a place teeming with college students, but it’s far from a college town.
That’s what planners and advocates have been saying for years — and what they hope to change as the city’s colleges and universities chart their futures with expansion plans, many of them aimed at keeping students on campus as full-time residents.
“It’s an integral part of the growth of the city,” said Alfred Koeppe, the co-founder and former CEO of the nonprofit Newark Alliance. “Clearly one of the things that Newark needs is a population that doesn’t leave at 5 o’clock in the afternoon.
“To a large extent, the work population in Newark does not reside in Newark,” Koeppe said. “But students who live and participate in the city, I think, is part of the potential for vitality.”
Anchors such as the New Jersey Institute of Technology and Rutgers University are trying to help that cause while trying to stay competitive with other schools in the region. The Brick City has nearly 40,000 students who flood the downtown every day, but very few of them live in Newark or stay in the city after graduation.
To reverse the trend, NJIT and Rutgers have embarked on large-scale projects that will improve their students’ housing options. NJIT last fall opened the first phase of a multiyear, billion-dollar expansion plan, adding 600 beds to raise its total on-campus resident population to 2,200, or about 30 percent of undergraduate enrollment.
Its next phase could include between 200 and 400 units that will likely be available to the general market, NJIT President Joel Bloom said, with an eye toward creating appeal for students after graduation.
“There is an increasing number of the college alums staying to live in the city, and either working in the city … or using it as a very good place for mass transit,” Bloom said. “In all, it’s kind of this hand-in-glove operation, not uncommon to what you see in other college towns.”
Meantime, Rutgers-Newark plans to rehabilitate a historic skyscraper at 15 Washington St. for use as student housing. The $95 million project, which is being overseen by New Brunswick Development Corp., will revitalize the 21-story building that originally housed American Insurance Co. and later Rutgers’ law school through 1999 after it was donated to the university.