Once prestigious and bountiful in serving more than 600 of New Jersey’s brightest students with free academic summer camps, the Governor’s Schools continue to suffer from tough financial times and will be down to just two programs next summer.
The organization alerted school districts last week that applications are open for the Governor’s School of the Sciences at Drew University and the School of Engineering and Technology at Rutgers, each serving close to 100 students.
That’s down from three last summer, with Stockton College withdrawing its environmental program -- although it says it may start its own -- and it is less than half the six programs that existed just four years ago.
Founded in 1983, the Governor’s Schools are located on different college campuses across the state. They invite high school students in the summer after their junior year to apply for the month-long residential programs, studying specific subjects like the arts, public policy and the environment.
Admission could be fiercely competitive, and high schools are asked to nominate only a small handful of students to apply. The program was and remains tuition-free.
But in 2006, former Gov. Jon Corzine pulled all state funding for the programs, saying the state could no longer afford the $1.9 million and they would need to survive on their own fundraising.
That launched a high-profile private campaign that kept the programs afloat for a year, but one by one they have fallen off. Last year, Stockton’s program was down to 48 students for two weeks.
Under the auspices of the state’s Commission on Higher Education, the Governor’s Schools board of overseers said the two remaining programs at Drew and Rutgers are nearly as strong as ever, buoyed by strong fundraising from nonprofit and corporate sponsors.
For Drew, the major donors include Novartis Corp., Bristol-Myers Squibb and the Bayer foundations. For Rutgers, they include Morgan Stanley, South Jersey Industries Foundation and New Jersey Resources. The state also now contributes $100,000.
"Despite the economy, they have actually been able to draw new donors," said Laura Overdeck, vice-chairman of the board and an alumna of the Governor’s School of the Sciences, who has also been a chief benefactor of that program.
But she said for the other schools, the funding has been too precarious, often coming on the eve of the summer itself.
“They have had to agree to do the programs without knowing sometimes whether they would have to foot the bill themselves,” she said. “In a recession, that is tough to do.”
Still, she and others said they hoped the programs would each return as the economy and funding improved, especially long-running programs like the arts program at College of New Jersey and the environmental one at Stockton.
"Nobody says they won’t do it any more at all," said Glenn Lang, acting executive director of the state Commission on Higher Education. “But as budgets get tighter, we are all getting caught in that squeeze.”
A spokesman for Stockton College confirmed that the school withdrew for next summer, but said it hopes to create its own program, possibly charging tuition or seeking its own funding.
"That is still to be decided," said spokesman Tim Kelly. "But what we are trying to do is put together our own version, very similar to the Governor’s School."
"Where we are located on the Pinelands, and our legacy as New Jersey’s green college, it lends itself to this type of program," he said. "When the details all get ironed out, we will be announcing more."