By Herman J. Saatkamp, Jr, President of Stockton College
Governor Christie recently made an announcement that has the potential to hurt New Jersey college students and their families.
The Governor seeks to impose a four percent tuition and fee cap on the colleges, in addition to the substantial cut in state financial assistance previously announced at his budget address. While on the surface this may sound good, the measures will limit the state colleges’ ability to fund need-based scholarships and harm students and families struggling to attend college.
While fully acknowledging New Jersey’s fiscal crisis as well as the need to rein in government spending, the Governor’s proposal is not a sound policy for our great state. The measures create gaps in college budgets and substantially hurt our ability to deliver a high quality, accessible and affordable education.
As we look forward to our economy becoming more stable and eventually recovering, it is important to remember the value of an educated workforce. We are facing more competition in global markets. We need educated adults of all ages who can adapt to changes in our economic needs and that can lead us as we rebuild and reinvigorate NJ’s economy. Cutting state appropriations to its state colleges and capping tuition is not a way to facilitate this.
In our own backyard, the gaming and hospitality industries – such a vital sector of our overall economy – continues to struggle through some of the most difficult times in history. Many workers face reduced incomes or outright job loss. Re-training or a career change often times requires educational services, limited by these latest caps and cuts. For many they will seek other venues in surrounding gaming and tourism states. When that happens, New Jersey will lose income and sales tax revenues that will in turn slow down the state’s recovery.
Higher education has the ability to help communities, businesses and individuals re-tool themselves. We need to be there to support them in this manner. It is our obligation as stable long-term bastions of New Jersey’s communities.
State government’s obligation is to enable this in any way possible.
Tuition caps and huge aid cuts are counterproductive and ultimately make NJ less competitive economically and less desirable as a place to live, work and play. At a time when New Jersey is among the nation’s leaders in exporting its college students and graduates, this is a potentially disastrous course of action. Our colleges provide the best possible value for a consumer’s education dollar and our state cannot afford to run the risk of losing even more of its best and brightest students to other states.
It should also be noted that New Jersey’s state colleges have taken on an arguably disproportionate share of the sacrifice in addressing State budget issues. New Jersey has reduced state aid to the colleges for the better part of the last decade. State appropriations account for only 16 percent of Stockton’s overall budget prior to the proposed cuts and caps; afterward the percentage would be 13.5 percent.
In real dollars, Stockton is operating at the same levels of funding as we were in 1998 while many fixed costs –over which we have no control—have risen well beyond the rate of inflation.
Additionally salary increases for many of our union-represented employees have been negotiated by the state and must be funded by the college. In addition to the cut in overall funding, the state is not funding these salary increases either. Such unfunded mandates place Stockton and many of our sister institutions in the position of deficit spending or making other unhealthy budget choices.
Stockton and our sister institutions should be part of the solution to our current fiscal challenges. These proposals impede our efforts.
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