New Jersey higher education deserves support

The Lumina Foundation recently released a state-bystate report on the higher educational needs of America, for success in the 21st century. It projects that New Jersey alone will have to successively increase the number of college graduates it produces annually by 5,600 per year, every single year, until 2025, to meet one of President Barack Obama’s goals for national competitiveness — that 60 percent of Americans will hold college degrees.

This translates into a need for nearly 770,000 additional college graduates in New Jersey over the 15- year time span. Even though New Jersey is a national leader in college attainment with about 50 percent of our citizens holding at least a two-year college degree, we are falling behind the rest of the developed world. Meeting this goal will be a very heavy lift, given New Jersey’s dramatic disinvestment in public colleges for the last decade.

The Garden State has had, over the past 35 years, a succession of state reports on the future needs of higher education. Most have cited the state’s appalling net loss of tens of thousands of collegebound high school graduates each year to institutions of higher learning in other states. The current net loss stands at 30,000 students per year, far more than any other state in the nation. New Jersey must keep more of its able, aspiring citizens here.

A few of the reports, and notably one emerging from a task force chaired by then-president of Princeton University Robert Goheen in 1965, called for decisive action, received the support of a broad coalition of influential leaders, and brought about a mountain of positive change in higher education.

In recent years, as state coffers dwindled, policy reports, while envisioning greater need for college educated citizens, either equivocated on the need for structural or financial change, or simply were buried, and failed to gain action or wide public attention.

A new “blue ribbon” report is due shortly, with the recommendations of the Governor’s Task Force on Higher Education, created last spring by Gov. Chris Christie, and chaired by former Gov. Tom Kean. This time, New Jersey’s leaders should pay close attention, and prepare to act on this important report.

Given the state’s dire fiscal condition and the struggle to compete in a rapidly changing global environment, the report may hold the answers New Jersey needs to get its head above troubled water, including properly aligning the educational needs of citizens with future economic prosperity. Indeed, it may contain New Jersey’s last and best hope for the coming decade.

Challenged with limited resources and rising enrollment demand, state colleges continue to do what they must to keep college costs down, and opportunity and quality up. For example, they have cultivated major donations from successful citizens who know them and care about college opportunity and a streamlined path to state workforce needs.

Witness, for example, the recent $2 million donation to Ramapo College’s nursing programs by Mike and Elaine Adler of Franklin Lakes. Institutions have found ways to leverage campus space and turn it into green energy income.

They have also found ways to use resources on a more roundthe clock, round-the-year basis and have brought in new income through adult and continuing education programs. They have contained costs by restructuring programs and using technology. Yet, state colleges must do more in service to the state.

For example, they have, working with the governor and Legislature, identified innovative ways, such as those in the proposed “tool kit” financial reforms, to cut red tape in order to keep college costs down, and improve services and accountability, while maintaining employee rights.

These areas of urgently needed change include workers’ compensation, civil service reform and collective bargaining reform. Legislation on these matters is pending and should be acted upon as soon as possible.

But New Jersey can no longer afford incremental change in higher education support and productivity. The state cannot make progress as a viable economic competitor and a high quality place to live without a comprehensive strategy tying higher education to the long-term prosperity of the state. The task force report and tool kit reforms can lay the groundwork for decisive, sustainable action by the governor, Legislature, and university leaders that will guarantee opportunity and prosperity in the Garden State for future generations.

This is the hope for the future, one that New Jersey must grasp at this critical time in our history. If the recommendations of the task force are as solid and visionary as I hope they will be, coupled with action on pending reforms, we will take a big step toward securing a bright future, here, in the Garden State.

Darryl G. Greer

CEO New Jersey Association

of State Colleges

and Universities