NJ Needs to Step Up Future Funding for Higher Education, University Presidents Warn

Mark J. Magyar | May 7, 2013 | Education
State's colleges educating 55,000 more students with $303 million less state money than in 2006

New Jersey’s higher education institutions are serving many more students with far fewer state dollars, the presidents of New Jersey’s two largest universities told the state Senate Budget Committee yesterday. And unless the state increases its funding for operating expenses, there is no way New Jersey will be able to compete with better-funded university systems in other states when it comes to academic excellence, research and development, and recruiting top students.

But while Rutgers University President Robert Barchi and Montclair State University President Susan Cole, chair of the New Jersey Presidents’ Council, were in agreement on funding, it was Barchi who came under heavy questioning about his plans to fund the university’s merger with UMDNJ in the next month, as well as for his handling of the recent basketball controversy.

Rochelle Hendricks, the secretary of higher education, was also at odds with the panel when she refused to explain why two religious colleges were awarded $10.6 million in capital building grants.

Cole thanked Gov. Chris Christie, the Legislature and New Jersey voters for approving a long-overdue higher education bond issue that will generate $1.3 billion in capital construction at New Jersey’s public and private four-year and two-year institutions.

But she and Barchi warned that it will take increases in state operating support in coming years to enable New Jersey’s higher education community to achieve the consistent excellence envisioned in the 2010 report of the higher education task force created by Christie and chaired by former Gov. Thomas H. Kean, the retired president of Drew University.

“How do we grow ourselves into being one of the elite group of state institutions? Barchi asked. “We can’t do that by redistributing the same dollars that are on the table now and have been on the table for the last decade. We will require additional dollars not only for Rutgers and UMDNJ, but also for [the Rutgers] Newark and Camden [campuses].”

Cole noted that Rutgers, UMDNJ, the New Jersey Institute of Technology, and the nine four-year state colleges received $956 million in the state’s Fiscal Year 2006 budget to educate 152,000 students. “In the proposed FY2014 budget, direct operating appropriations for these institutions is proposed to be $716 million to serve over 183,000 students,” she said. “That constitutes, since 2006, a 25 percent decrease in funding to serve a 20 percent increase in students.”

Similarly, she said, the $218 million that New Jersey’s 19 community colleges received in the FY2006 budget to educate 152,000 students is down to $179 million this year, even though enrollment is up to 172,000 — an 18 percent cut in funding to serve a 13 percent increase in students, she pointed out. The 14 independent colleges and universities that used to receive $24 million in state operating aid now receive virtually no funding, while their student populations have grown by 16 percent from 24,000 to 28,000.

“This is not rocket science,” Cole said. “There is not a single institution in this state that is overfunded. Every institution is underfunded.”

Barchi cited the lack of funding for higher education in shrugging off questions about where he would find the estimated $76 million needed to underwrite the Rutgers-UMDNJ merger scheduled to take effect July 1.

“Let’s put this in perspective,” Barchi said. From the mid-1990s to today, state funding in real dollars [with inflation factored out] “has been level, while we added 140,000 students and $200 million of research.” In effect, he said, Rutgers “built a second university without additional funding.”

“We recognize that there are no additional funds” for the $76 million in merger costs, Barchi said. “We will have to pay those bills by not doing other things we had planned to do over the next two or three years. Deferred maintenance will be pushed off,” along with some worthy new program development.

Neither Senate Budget Committee Chairman Paul Sarlo (D-Bergen), who asked Barchi what it would take for Rutgers to compete at the next level with elite state universities, nor Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen) were satisfied with Barchi’s lack of specificity on the details of a Rutgers-UMDNJ merger that is less than two months away.

“It seems like there are a lot more questions than answers,” Sarlo said.

Weinberg said pointedly that she was concerned that Barchi had not been entirely forthcoming in previous public statements about whether Rutgers would be paying a hefty buyout to Rutgers basketball coach Mike Rice, who was fired after ESPN reported that he had made homophobic slurs and then aired video footage of him cursing and throwing basketballs at his players, and about whether the university lawyer who recommended a lesser penalty for Rice had been fired.

Sen. Kevin O’Toole (R-Essex) also expressed concern that “there are many questions that need to be answered that have not been addressed” about Barchi’s and Rutgers’ handling of the Rice controversy, and Sarlo warned Barchi that he would invite him back to testify when the university’s outside counsel completes its formal investigation of the affair.

Weinberg also raised questions about the award of $10.6 million in public funds to Beth Medrash Govoha, an all-male Orthodox Jewish rabbinical institution in Lakewood, for the construction of a library and conference center, and $645,000 to Princeton Theological Seminary, which trains Presbyterian ministers, for the building of a library and academic center.

“These are clearly religious institutions,” Weinberg noted, that are not open to the general student population. She questioned how the two schools got on the list for state funding.

“There has to be a reason and either you can share that with us or you cannot,” Weinberg said to Hendricks.

To Weinberg’s chagrin, Hendricks said she could not discuss the criteria used to in determining funding under the higher education bond issue.

“Mr. Chairman,” Weinberg said to Sarlo, “the budget committee should find a way to get that information so we can make a rational judgment,” on the merits of the two grants.