When New Jersey voters head to the polls Nov. 6, they will be deciding more than candidates to represent them. There is a $750 million bond question on the ballot that would benefit the state’s public and private colleges and universities. William Paterson University President Dr. Kathleen Waldron told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that the bond issue is very important to the colleges and universities across the state.
William Paterson has a detailed plan to upgrade facilities should money from the bond issue become available. Waldron said the school would rebuild its nursing, communication and public health programs as well as some core classroom buildings.
“This would affect immediately about 600 students in our nursing program, one of only seven nursing programs in the state that takes it through the Ph.D. level to train future teachers of nursing. But it would also be a core academic classroom building serving about 3,000 to 4,000 students,” Waldron said. “That building that we’re talking about renovating was built in 1962. If you stepped inside it today, it would look like it was built in 1962.”
Aside from lacking central air conditioning, having old fashioned access points and having poor ventilation, the building isn’t big enough or properly equipped for learning. “I watched professors try to shout above window air conditioners in a room with 35 packed in students. So the space is not big enough, it’s not modern,” Waldron said. “We have jimmy rigged to make it a smart classroom. We have the right equipment in there but it hangs from the ceiling. It’s just not what our students or any student in the state of New Jersey deserves.”
Making upgrades to the state’s colleges and universities could encourage more New Jersey students to remain in the Garden State. Waldron said about 30,000 students choose to leave New Jersey for their higher education, one of the highest outflows of any state.
“Students of course should have the right to choose where they want to go, but that means that they’re not spending their dollars for their education in the state of New Jersey, but more importantly it probably means that a large portion of those highly educated students will choose to reside permanently somewhere else, probably closer to the university that they attend,” Waldron said. “So that’s a real brain drain for the state of New Jersey and something we want to be sure we have enough seats for all of the students who want to be educated in the state of New Jersey.”
Some of the voters deciding on the bond issue will be college students in the Garden State. While Waldron said she believes young people are inspired, she said they likely aren’t as much as in 2008 because of the national political climate. She said that 1,000 new voters have been registered in the last few weeks at William Paterson University, however.
“We have a non-partisan project as part of a nationwide project called the American Democracy Project which seeks to get first time voters registered, particularly among students,” she said. “And I see a lot of enthusiasm for students to learn about the issue and to be citizens.”
Waldron said projections show fewer young voters will cast their ballots in November, but she explained that one of the jobs of a public university is to prepare students for citizenship, which includes participation in the voting process.
“I’m hoping that our students today realize that there are choices being presented, especially at a presidential election, and that they’ll study those candidates carefully, listen to the debates. We encourage and hold a campus wide debate event so that we invite students to participate and listen to those debates and that they’ll actively engage,” Waldron said. “I’m pretty confident they’re engaged.”