BY TOM HESTER SR.
Gov. Chris Christie Friday signed an executive order establishing a New Jersey Higher Education Task Force to examine what he describes the key issues and impediments facing the state's 63 public and private colleges.
Former Gov. Thomas Kean, the former president of Drew University, will chair the panel.
The executive order is the 26th Christie has signed since taking office 107 days ago, a pace that has him issuing one every four days.
"To compete and be prosperous in this 21st century economy, we must have a system of higher education that keeps up with the demands of today's changing marketplace," Christie said at a Statehouse press conference. "New Jersey's institutions of higher learning are critically important to the economic growth of our state and must be afforded the necessary tools to stay competitive. Today, I am asking Governor Kean to conduct a critical review and assessment that will grow infrastructure, increase accessibility and promote excellence in New Jersey's institutions of higher learning."
Christie said a host of issues have impeded the state's colleges from providing accessible, affordable and high quality education opportunities to students.
The governor noted that New Jersey loses more of its resident students to out-of-state colleges and universities that any other state in the nation. In fact, he said, New Jersey's net out-migration of college students constitutes a third of all net-out-migration in the United States, losing about 30,000 students per year.
Christie said several other challenges facing New Jersey's colleges include a lack of state capital investment to meet capital needs, outdated regulations as well as increased administrative and tuition costs.
New Jersey's 31 public and 32 independent colleges serve more than 429,000 students across the state through a variety of undergraduate and graduate programs
The creation of the Higher Education Task Force is a part of Christie's overall plan for what he sees as long-term higher education reform to ensure New Jersey's leadership role in higher education and position the state as a home for economic growth and prosperity.
Earlier in the week, Christie signed legislation designed to the promote growth of higher education in the state by easing restrictions on public-private partnerships between higher education institutions and private entities for on-campus construction and building improvements.
In addition, Christie is proposing a "toolkit" of legislation that will empower higher education institutions to better control their costs through collective bargaining, risk management and civil service reforms.
"Higher education is an investment in New Jersey's future," Kean said. "Making sure the system is efficient and affordable for our citizens is critical to our economic well-being and I look forward to working with Governor Christie, Task Force members and the higher education community to form a comprehensive strategy for success."
Joining Kean on the Task Force are George Pruitt, president of Thomas Edison State College; John McGoldrick, chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Association of State Colleges and Universities and Peggi Howard, vice president of administration at Drew University. Christie said additional members will be named.
The Task Force is directed to consider a variety of factors in developing their recommendations, such as:
- Governance structure and inter-relationship with state government
- Effectiveness of public/private partnerships among institutions
- Capital investment needs and mechanisms for securing capital
- Effective use and promotion of resources
- Relationship between county colleges and other institutions
- Relationship with state workforce needs
- Accessibility and affordability of institutions, including availability of tuition assistance
- Methods for distributing direct state aid
- Effects of state-imposed regulations and mandates
- Methods used for training teachers and the role of higher education institutions
- Review of financial disclosure requirements for governing boards and Presidents
A final report with recommendations is due no later than Dec. 1, the day the term of the task force will expire.