On November 6, we New Jerseyans will vote not just for our next President and other officials – we will also vote “yes” or “no” on a critically important first step toward restoring our state as a leader in higher education in America – a much needed capital bond referendum for our colleges. We at the Higher Education Council urge you to vote “yes.” Here’s why:
First, a few facts. As the bipartisan Task Force on Higher Education, chaired by Governor Tom Kean, reported last year, New Jersey has for years failed to keep pace with the capital spending needs of our colleges and universities. In a nutshell, our laboratories have too often become antiquated, our classrooms too out-of-date, our schools less well equipped to compete with schools in other states and around the world. New Jersey’s higher education support has fallen significantly over the years. The numbers vary depending on who’s talking, but what’s clear is that our state has provided almost no capital support for 24 years, while most states regularly do so – this is bad news for our students, bad news for our economy, bad news for all of us. This trend has occurred during both Democratic and Republican administrations.
Finally this fall there is good news. Tomorrow, for the first time since 1988, we get to vote for a higher education bond. In a rare, laudable and truly bipartisan effort to turn things around, both parties are solidly in favor of this carefully crafted bond proposal.
Governor Chris Christie supports it. Democratic Majority Leader Steve Sweeney supports it. Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver supports it. Overwhelming majorities from both parties in the State Senate and Assembly support it. Businesses support it, labor supports it, our hard-pressed students support it. It is hard to find someone who does not support it. Now is the time for the rest of us to finish the job with our votes – the citizens are the final judges on this important question and we must now make the responsible choice by voting “yes” on election day.
Those who may know best the value of higher education, the students, the college presidents, and the citizen trustees of these schools, have urged us to support the bond. But a few say, well, of course they do, the money will go to these very schools – but this argument misses key points. This is no free lunch, the schools themselves must match any money they get by 25 percent. Also, any capital project must be for labs, classrooms or other expenses directly related to core education, no big football stadiums need apply. Grants will only be made when approved by the Secretary of Higher Education. There are many safeguards to make sure the money is spent well. Perhaps most important, although the schools may be direct beneficiaries, all of us are the biggest beneficiaries, in a better economy, in better-served students, in jobs, in a more competitive state.
Finally, we on the Governor’s Higher Education Council have reviewed the referendum carefully. Though we believe deeply in the value to our state of higher education, we take our task and our independence seriously. The Kean Task Force suggested we be created as an independent voice to help oversee and advise about higher education. The Governor and the Legislature agreed. We believe we would fail in our duty were we to stay silent on this important public issue. Therefore, we respectfully and strongly recommend a “yes” vote on the higher education bond referendum on November 6.
John L. McGoldrick, Chair