TRENTON – Fresh off picking up the John S. Watson Institute for Urban Policy and Research in a transfer from Thomas Edison State College, Kean University is on the verge of being designated New Jersey’s first urban research university.

A bill approved unanimously Monday in the Senate and Assembly would elevate Kean to become New Jersey’s fifth research university, in addition to Rutgers, Montclair State, Rowan and New Jersey Institute of Technology, and the first with a specifically urban focus. The university's main campus is in Union County, spanning parts of Union Township and Hillside.

Kean University President Lamont Repollet said it can open doors for students and help solve state challenges.

“We all know the urban renaissance is helping New Jersey, and Kean is poised to lead the way. So, this is a win-win situation for the people of our state,” Repollet said.

Repollet said Oregon, Texas and Maryland have urban research universities, committed to helping cities and their residents through scholarship and applied research.

“It would also position Kean as an anchor institution and statewide leader in serving our underserved urban communities,” Repollet said.

Jeffrey Toney, Kean’s senior vice president for research, said research engagement has been shown to be critical for student success.

“Kean freshmen, for example, participating in research projects showed an extraordinary five-year graduation rate of 92%,” Toney said.

Toney said Kean receives federal grants now from sources such as the National Endowment for the Humanities, National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health and Department of Education.

“Those grants at Kean have more than tripled since 2017, and we would be eligible for even more of them with this new designation,” he said.

Toney said the university operates more than 30 research centers and institutes currently, including at its China campus.

The John S. Watson Institute for Urban Policy and Research existed at Thomas Edison State College for around 30 years before moving to Kean in March.

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Kean senior vice president for transformational learning and external affairs Joseph Youngblood said the Watson Institute and pending urban research university designation will enable the university to help solve real-world problems “specifically for our state’s most historically significant, densely populated, ethnically diverse, environmentally challenged and economic distressed communities.”

Youngblood said the institute will work with the Urban Mayors Association to research adaptable solutions to economic, health, housing, education, public safety and environmental issues.

“Policies and best practices in our large urban centers do not often easily translate to places like Roselle, Bridgeton, Lakewood or Perth Amboy,” he said.

Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com.

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