When Dr. Glenn Gabert took over as the president of Hudson County Community College in 1992 – the fifth president or acting president to serve in three years – the campus consisted of one building near Journal Square and the school had an uncertain future.
He had seen an advertisement for the job, stuck it in a drawer, and temporarily forgotten about it. Then the chairman of the search committee gave him a call.
At the time, he had about 20 years of experience in the business side of college education, mostly in a suburban environment. He was used to reporting directly to the college president, where he said he gained much of his experience. He knew there were differences between urban and suburban schools, but he wanted to help rescue HCCC.
Although he had grown up in Chicago, Gabert came to Hudson County from Missouri. He earned a doctorate from Loyola University, where he became a member of the faculty and a Schmitt Fellow. He began his community college career at Moraine Valley Community College in the metropolitan Chicago area, and went on to serve as dean at Johnson County Community College in suburban Kansas City, Kansas.
But he said he saw an urban school such as HCCC as a challenge, and HCCC needed to be rescued.
The college in 1992
The college had experienced interventions by the New Jersey Secretary of Higher Education and Middle States. The Board of Trustees had been asked to resign. There were discussions about dividing HCCC between two nearby county colleges or closing it altogether. There was little confidence for HCCC within the institution and the community, doubt that manifested itself in a total enrollment of just 3,076 students.
But Gabert saw potential. Perhaps his background and his post-doctorate in business were just the kinds of things the school needed. He did a lot of research, and when he was offered the job, he rolled up his sleeves and got to work.
Everything was screwed up, and the early going was rough. But he liked the people, who reminded him of people he knew back home.
“We had a great board,” he said.
He said county support was essential. Over the years, he had the help of the county executive’s office under Robert Janiszewski and later, Tom DeGise.
“DeGise is a jewel,” Gabert said.
County officials understood the need to work together.
“We had some serious issues, but we had great support,” he said.
A Cinderella story?
Under Dr. Gabert’s leadership, HCCC has changed focus and expanded its student base, with about 13,000 full and part time students as of this fall, with estimated growth of more than 21,000 over the next few years.
It is currently the largest of the four colleges in Hudson County.
In 1992, when Gabert took over, HCCC was largely focused on developmental education programs. But the fall 2017 catalogue show the college offers more than 60 degree and certificate programs. These are wide ranging from its already well-respected culinary arts program to its Science and Engineering programs, bolstered by a newly-opened STEM building located in the Journal Square area.
Programs include Hospitality Management, Nursing, Health Sciences courses, as well as ESL studies plus Business, Criminal Justice, Homeland Security, and Studio Arts/Computer Arts programs, plus new Computer Science A.S. with Cybersecurity Option, Construction Management A.A.S., and Supply Chain Management and Personal Fitness Training certificates.
HCCC Board Chair William J. Netchert said recently, “Glen Gabert transformed Hudson County Community College from a deeply distressed entity to an institution of first choice for local residents seeking a higher education. Our Board is proud of what we have achieved in working with Dr. Gabert; for the people of Hudson County – and most especially our students – it has been life-changing.”
HCCC serves locals well
Graduates from HCCC often go on to attend other institutions, such as Saint Peter’s, New Jersey City, Caldwell, Drew, Fairleigh Dickinson, Rutgers and William Paterson Universities, and other others.
HCCC has financial assistance and scholarship programs. Fewer than 20 percent of students pay full tuition.
“We have challenges ahead, I want HCCC to be the first choice in colleges,” he said.
Although Hudson County has NJCU, St. Peters University, and a few other institutions of higher learning, Gabert said they do not compete for students.
“We have different audiences,” he said.
He believes the two year college has a lot to offer, not merely a great education, but also at an affordable price. Tuition is about $4,500 a year, and the credits earned at HCCC can be transferred to other local colleges.
He said with grants, many students can graduate HCCC debt free. Many go onto some of the top colleges where they continue to advance their careers.
The campus, too, has grown over the last 25 years, from one building in the Journal Square area in Jersey City to three campuses, a large one in Journal Square, another in Union City, and a third facility located on the campus of the Hudson County Schools of Technology expected to open next fall in Secaucus.
“Not one dollar of tuition goes to debt service,” he said.
He said he had a lot of support of long time allies U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez and Rep. Albio Sires.
He said the college enrolls more part time than full time students, but this could change over time.
HCCC has been a mainstay of Journal Square, giving life to that part of the city even during the darkest times. But the future is bright, and the new development promises to bring to the school a whole new professional class.
Gabert said people living on the waterfront who wish to take courses often find it easier to do so in New York City. But as new development comes to Journal Square, professionals will find HCCC extremely convenient. The new library building operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The new STEM building provides needed laboratory space to students, who currently use facilities at St. Peter’s University.
HCCC is already well known for its culinary program. But what is less known is that the college has an extensive art collection, much of which will be on display in new facilities.
What has been lacking in the past is a large special events space, which is why HCCC has held its graduation ceremonies in Newark at the Performing Arts Center.
The college already has ties to local high schools, where students can start earning college credits even before they graduate high school.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.