In his State of the Union address, President Obama unveiled a policy agenda that, he described, was designed to "win the future" by positioning America to create jobs in a challenging global innovation market. He proposed bold ideas and indicated a willingness to compromise but made one thing clear — America cannot compete in the 21st century with the outdated policies of the past.
It's a credo that holds particularly true in New Jersey.
For decades, a major economic asset of the Garden State has been our highly-educated workforce. Businesses have brought jobs to New Jersey in pursuit of educated workers who could "win the future." From our growth as a major center of cutting-edge pharmaceutical research to our state's development as a national leader in solar energy and other innovation industries, one of our strengths has been our system of higher education that produces graduates ready to innovate and tackle tomorrow's challenges.
Inexplicably, the state continues to ask our colleges and universities to make do with the inadequate, outdated policies of the past.
I recognize the need for fiscal restraint. But as any business owner will tell you, in order to succeed, you must invest in your own success.
In New Jersey, we continue to fund higher education at 1990's levels even through the first decade of the 21st century. Now, draconian cuts made by Governor Christie bring serious risk that New Jersey will fall behind the curve — meaning less education and fewer jobs.
In December, the Governor's Task Force on Higher Education released a examining the challenges facing our colleges and universities. Chaired by former Governor Kean, they released a series of recommendations designed to tackle these challenges head on.
Unfortunately, many of the Governor's past policies conflict with these suggestions, increasing college costs for families, hurting job creation in our state and making New Jersey less competitive.
Last year, Democrats passed a law requiring the Governor to streamline bureaucracy, cut red tape, and coordinate effective higher education policy by appointing a Secretary of Higher Education. The Task Force agreed, yet the Governor has failed to fill this position for over a year. Leaving our higher education boat afloat without a rudder is not the way to “win the future”; it is a guarantee that we will continue to drift along without a sure direction.
Another major Task Force recommendation called for investing in financial aid to students. The Task Force described some of our excellent and effective student aid programs as "a resounding success," warning that reducing aid hurts not only families but "[jeopardizes] the financial strength of institutions themselves."
Despite this success, Governor Christie has slashed student aid. With nearly $11 million in cuts to Tuition Aid Grants and $3 million in cuts to the Educational Opportunity Fund, the Governor has burdened families with increased college costs. While I am encouraged that he recently increasing student aid, the devil will be in the details. If we are to create jobs, we must make getting a college degree more affordable, not less.
New Jersey's colleges are truly on the front lines of job creation. Our community colleges operate basic skills and workforce training programs that have trained over 10,000 workers in partnership with over 1,000 businesses. Rutgers has partnered closely with job creators, creating a concierge service that helps to align student skills with the economic needs of New Jersey businesses.
These programs are vital to our economic recovery. And yet, while the Task Force recommends greater investment in our colleges, Governor Christie has done the opposite. Already, the Governor has cut nearly $240 million in operating support to our colleges and universities — asking historically underfunded colleges to keep treading water. Worse, middle-class families take the hit for these cuts right in their own wallets, as colleges increase the tuition burden on students to compensate.
If we are to create jobs and stand astride a global market for innovation, we must invest in our own success. We cannot create 21st century jobs without investing in higher education.
Last November's elections delivered a clear message--we need to focus on policies that will create jobs. I have disagreed with the Governor in the past but am committed to working with him and other legislators on higher education solutions that will do just that.
One thing is abundantly clear--in order to "win the future," our college students, families and our economic future can't afford to fall behind the curve on higher education.
Pamela Lampitt, a Democrat, represents New Jersey's Sixth Legislative District in the General Assembly, where she serves as Chairwoman of the Higher Education Committee