Gov. Phil Murphy signed legislation designating Kean University as the state’s first urban research university, recognizing the institution’s role in generating solutions to problems in communities around the state.
“This designation is a transformative development for Kean and positions the University as a statewide leader in research and policy for our underserved cities and urban communities. It will change the course of this institution and provide new opportunities for the students we serve,” said Kean President Lamont Repollet in a Nov. 12 statement. “As the state’s only urban research university, we can also make a real difference in the lives of New Jerseyans living in urban communities as we help urban centers build stronger futures.”
The measure, Senate Bill 3811, received unanimous support in both houses of the Legislature. Kean joins Rutgers University, New Jersey Institute of Technology, Rowan University and Montclair State University as a state-designated public research university.
“With this designation, Kean’s world-class programs and research can stretch even farther beyond the borders of our campus, into cities and urban communities in need of the insight and targeted attention that we can provide,” said Kellie LeDet, chief government affairs officer at Kean, in a prepared statement. “We are grateful for the support of the governor and other lawmakers who recognize the growing role Kean plays across New Jersey, particularly in urban communities.”
The move elevates Kean’s profile and enhances its competitiveness for research grants. The university is actively pursuing an R2 designation by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education which, if achieved, would also boost its competitiveness.
There are more than 30 research centers and institutes at Kean USA and Wenzhou-Kean University in China, according to Senior Vice President for Research Jeffrey Toney. Highly competitive federal research grants have more than tripled at Kean since 2017, Toney said.
“Kean shines among the constellation of public state universities because our true north is equity, access and opportunity,” he said. “Our diverse students engage in research and creative projects in the sciences, arts and humanities, learning outside of the classroom along with their peers at the very best universities. Many live in urban communities themselves and will now have an opportunity to support their own cities and towns.”
Kean established the John S. Watson Institute for Urban Policy and Research in the spring to research issues affecting New Jersey’s urban centers and to develop solutions to address them. The Institute works with 32 mayors from the New Jersey Urban Mayors Association, informing urban decision-making and public policy on issues including sustainable growth, economic development, water quality and infrastructure.
“The leaders of this state have long linked New Jersey’s future and prosperity to the renaissance and continued revitalization of our state’s urban centers,” said Kean Senior Vice President for External Affairs Joseph Youngblood. “There are no cookie-cutter policy approaches to the issues impacting our diverse urban contexts. Through strong partnerships with lawmakers, industry leaders and community organizations, the Institute will provide evidence, analysis and recommendations that help move all of our urban communities forward.”
Kean was recently one of 25 colleges and universities selected for a U.S. Economic Development Administration University Center grant to promote innovation and strengthen regional economies. Kean will create the Center for Business/Workforce Development, Innovation & Social Entrepreneurship through the more than $1 million five-year grant, and it will be the first of its kind in the state, according to the university.
The Center will provide support, expertise, applied research and technical assistance to identify and address the specific regional needs of urban centers.
Repollet said that both the urban research designation and the EDA grant will help the university continue conducting research on issues that affect the state’s urban centers.
“We take responsibility for not just identifying the challenges in our cities but finding the solutions that are replicable, scalable and sustainable to move us forward,” he said. “We look forward to bringing our faculty and students into this research so they can contribute directly to learning projects that will impact their own communities.