Adding It Up: Economic Impact of New Jersey’s Private Colleges

John Reitmeyer | May 11, 2017 | Education
All told, private schools contribute about $3.5 billion to the state’s economy, a sizable chunk of change from 14 public facilities

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New Jersey’s independent colleges and universities generate an estimated $3.5 billion in economic impact for the state, according to a new study released by a group that represents the 14 nonprofit schools.

Ranging from the Ivy League’s well-known Princeton University to the tiny College of Saint Elizabeth in Morristown, the independent schools have more than 18,000 employees, and they pay more than $1 billion in direct wages to their workers.

But their total economic output rises to $3.5 billion when things like spending on goods and services and campus construction projects are considered, as well as the indirect spending by school employees and construction workers, according to the new report which was released yesterday by the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities in New Jersey.

State aid to private colleges

The state currently provides about $1 million in aid to the private colleges and universities out of the annual budget, and the schools’ students receive another $100 million in state tuition assistance. That means the return on investment for state taxpayers is about $35 for every $1 spent, the report said.

Richard Leavo, president of Bloomfield College
“We are a tremendous bargain for the state,” Bloomfield College President Richard Leavo said during a news conference held in the State House yesterday.

The economic-impact analysis was compiled in the wake of a 2015 report released by the nonpartisan Governor’s Higher Education Council that said in order for New Jersey to compete better economically against other states and countries, it needs to improve its current college certificate and degree rate of 45 percent of the state’s adult population. The report set a goal of reaching a rate of 65 percent by 2025.

“This can only be achieved if New Jersey continues to provide a diverse range of higher education opportunities, including independent colleges and universities,” according to the economic-impact report released yesterday.

The new analysis was also released just as state lawmakers are in the process of reviewing the $35.5 billion budget put forward by Gov. Chris Christie for the 2018 fiscal year, which begins July 1. Christie’s proposed spending plan holds aid for independent colleges and universities flat at $1 million, and it also calls for a modest, $12 million increase in funding for student-aid programs. Although Christie has the authority to propose the annual state budget, it’s ultimately up to lawmakers to decide whether to accept his version of the budget or draft their own.

Association membership

The 14 schools that are represented by the association are: Bloomfield College, Caldwell University, Centenary University, College of Saint Elizabeth, Drew University, Fairleigh Dickinson University, Felician University, Georgian Court University, Monmouth University, Princeton University, Rider University, Saint Peter’s University, Seton Hall University, and Stevens Institute of Technology.

In all, a total of 65,000 students attend the 14 schools, which is about 15 percent of the state’s total student population. The independent colleges and universities also employ 18,460 faculty, administrators and support staff, with 74 percent of that workforce holding full-time jobs. The total wages paid to the school employees is $1.18 billion, according to the report.

The independent colleges and universities also spend another estimated $1 billion annually on construction and the purchasing of goods and services, supporting another 4,500 jobs. Over the past five years, the schools have also drawn another $1.9 billion in research funding into the state, according to the report.

The 2015 report released by the Governor’s Higher Education Council made a number of recommendations as it called for the state to reach the goal of having 65 percent of its adults holding a college certificate or degree by 2025. They included increasing aid for student-aid programs and strengthening the ties between colleges and universities and employers.

“New Jersey must make a clear start now, even if a relatively modest one, to begin a trajectory toward a better future, and to make a statement that New Jersey understands the critical importance of higher education, even as we deal with a current stretched state financial situation that has been decades in the making,” the 2015 report said.

Under Christie’s fiscal year 2018 budget proposal, student aid would go up from $465 million to $477 million.

Community service

Several independent college presidents who attended yesterday’s news conference said they’ve also been working closely with the employers in their communities, serving on chambers of commerce, and administering internship programs.

For example, at Drew University in Madison there are programs that link students with local corporate chief executives and retired industrial scientists living in the area.

“Our partnerships tend to be tailor-made to the organization,” said MaryAnn Baenninger, the university’s president.

Some of the independent schools also serve communities with no other institution of higher education, and are located in communities that are predominantly minority. And U.S. Census data indicates access to higher education can make a big difference when it comes to annual earnings, with adults with a college degree in New Jersey earning $60,935 annually, or nearly double the $31,719 earned by those with high-school diplomas.

“This reflects what the sisters cared about, serving the underserved,” said Anne Prisco, the president of Felician University, a Franciscan school located in Rutherford that was founded by Felician sisters in 1942.