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Higher education facilities bond: A rare opportunity to secure New Jersey’s future

kleinMICHAEL083010_optBY MICHAEL W. KLEIN
NEW JERSEY ASSOCIATION OF STATE COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES
COMMENTARY

New Jersey voters will have a rare opportunity on November 6 to decide whether the state will make a serious investment in our future economic competitiveness by funding cutting-edge buildings and technology at the state’s colleges and universities. The Building Our Future Bond will be public question No. 1 on the ballot.

The referendum for the much-needed $750 million bond issue for college and university facilities is a watershed event in the history of higher education funding in New Jersey. There has been no higher education facilities referendum in New Jersey since 1988, when voters approved a $350 million bond act for academic buildings.

These state-backed bond funds have all been spent, and since 1999, New Jersey has not provided any annual investments in capital projects at its senior public colleges and universities, ranking us near the bottom in the nation. By comparison, our neighbors in New York and Connecticut invest hundreds of millions of dollars annually in their college and university facilities. Modest revenue bonds issued by the New Jersey Educational Facilities Authority have been helpful, but they targeted specific needs like equipment and deferred maintenance, not the large-scale construction that this year’s referendum would provide. With no reliable state assistance to build and maintain facilities, New Jersey’s college students and their parents have paid these costs, in large part, through increased fees during difficult economic times.

Over the past 24 years, the Garden State has made a significant investment in our public schools, and we are one of the nation’s leaders in per-pupil spending. There has been no commensurate investment in higher education. The disparity between K-12 and higher education funding means that our state prepares students for college without giving them adequate space in college classrooms here.

The bond issue will address the highest priority academic needs at several dozen colleges and universities across the state, and not a penny will be used for athletic facilities or administrative buildings. Proposed projects at the nine state colleges and universities include health-science facilities, an environmental and life-science lab, a facility for nursing, and expansion and modernization of classrooms.

The state colleges and universities are already the baccalaureate-degree engine of New Jersey, and these new facilities will help New Jersey students prepare for twenty-first century jobs. New Jersey’s employers are seeking these well-prepared graduates to replenish and expand their workforce to remain competitive with China, India, and the rest of the growing global marketplace.

Roughly 90 percent of the students enrolled at institutions that will benefit from the bond issue are New Jersey residents. The buildings to be supported by the bond will benefit all New Jersey's students who will become the next generations of innovators, entrepreneurs and business leaders.

In the near term, construction will create over 9,000 New Jersey jobs. That is important, too, for our struggling construction industry. Another additional benefit stemming from the bond issue will be a “greener,” more sustainable, energy efficient set of buildings on campuses across the state.

A bond issue for higher education facilities is a rarity in New Jersey and deserves the voters’ thoughtful reflection and support. Our state’s economic future is at stake. I urge voters to enhance the educational opportunities that will result in good jobs and benefits that will keep New Jerseyans and our businesses prosperous and competitive. Vote “yes” on public question No.1.

NJ Association of State Colleges and Universities is chartered, by law, as a nonprofit, nonpartisan policy organization with a mission to advance the collective interests of New Jersey’s nine state colleges and universities, and to advise the governor, legislature and others on fulfilling the higher educational needs of New Jersey citizens. As such, the Association is unique nationally among the states as a public college association serving its member institutions, public policy makers and citizens. The NJASCU member institutions are: The College of New Jersey, Kean University, Montclair State University, New Jersey City University, Ramapo College of New Jersey, Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, Rowan University, Thomas Edison State College and William Paterson University of New Jersey.

CEO Michael W. Klein, JD, PhD, is a resident of Pennington, N.J.

 

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