Report: Higher education funding inadequate nationwide

BY Michael Aron, Chief Political Correspondent |

Support for higher education in New Jersey and throughout the nation has fallen behind.

A new study released Wednesday from the Washington-based Center for Budget and Policy Priorities is headlined “A Lost Decade in Higher Education–State Cuts Have Driven Up Tuition and Reduced Quality.”

The study notes the funding decline has contributed to higher tuition and reduced quality as colleges have had to balance budgets by reducing faculty, limiting course offerings and in some cases, closing campuses.

Brandon McKoy, a policy analyst for New Jersey Policy Perspective, a Trenton think tank, was interested particularly in what the study says about the Garden State.

“It shows that New Jersey is not uncommon from the rest of the country and other states,” said McKoy. “Higher education funding is one of the easier things to cut during a recession because it is not appropriated on more than a yearly basis.”

Although state revenues have returned to pre-recession levels in most states, aid to higher education has not.

The state with the greatest decrease is Arizona, where state support for higher education is 53 percent less than in 2008.

In Pennsylvania, state support is down 34 percent.

New Jersey is in the middle of the pack, down 21.3 percent.

New York has fared better, state aid is down just 2 percent there.

State aid in New Jersey finally went up this year by $22 per student, according to McKoy. That’s a third of a percent.

Reporter: “Is this a good news story or a bad news story?”

McKoy: “I think this is one of those news stories that is good just because we’ve stopped cutting, but it’s not where we need to be.”

Susan Cole, president of Montclair State University, has been a strong advocate for higher education funding for many years.

She says the impact of funding cuts falls most heavily on students and their tuition bills.

“Students are now working a lot of hours in order to pay for their education and that slows them down,” remarked Dr. Cole. “Actually, I’m most concerned about students in the sciences, who really need to spend long hours in the laboratory, and that time is cut away if they have to work.”

Secretary of Higher Education Rochelle Hendricks defends the level of state support, noting that a recent bond issue has led to $1.5 billion to finance 211 campus construction projects, the first such funding in 25 years.

“New Jersey also ranks second in the nation in the amount of financial aid it provides per pupil,” said Secretary Hendricks.

Dr. Cole sees things differently.

“New Jersey has not supported public higher education the way it should,” she argued. “The support has declined very significantly over the last decade or so. And, we have seen enrollments rise during that period, and so it is not far-sighted to do this in this state where the economy demands on highly educated people.”

It’s an old story, the underfunding of higher education in New Jersey. But, Dr. Cole says campus leaders here and elsewhere are planning to express their frustrations about it again sometime this fall.