General Questions

In the past decade, there have been several state reports proposing changes to higher education. Why has the report of the New Jersey Higher Education Task Force elicited such positive reactions?

Unlike other efforts, the New Jersey Higher Education Task Force report takes a comprehensive approach to the issues facing all segments of higher education within the state. Former Governor Kean, a long-time advocate for higher education and former president of Drew University, led a distinguished committee that combined visionary leadership with a pragmatic approach to strengthening the state’s entire system of colleges and universities. The result is a report that articulates that system’s highest aspirations while offering practical proposals for both short- and long-term progress.

What are some of the most important recommendations in the report?

With more than 70 recommendations, the task force report covers a wide range of issues from governance to financing and affordability to economic growth and workforce development. This comprehensive report demands careful deliberation, but offers some exciting new ideas for moving forward, including:

  1. A statewide governance structure that would include a secretary of higher education and an advisory Governor’s Higher Education Council to represent New Jersey’s colleges and universities in Trenton and act as a statewide coordinating body. This proposal is addressed in the governor’s Executive Order 52.
  2. Continued autonomy for Rutgers and other senior institutions, including the authority to set their own tuition.
  3. Better and more stable funding for operating budgets and capital facilities, including possible state bond issues.
  4. Greater assistance for students in need.
  5. Reuniting Rutgers and Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. This proposal is addressed in the governor’s Executive Order 51.

What changes in higher education funding can we expect based on the task force’s recommendations?

Given the state’s serious budget challenges, some of the report’s recommendations may need to wait for a stronger economy. Nevertheless, noting that “the State must reverse decades of underfunding and neglect,” the report makes 19 recommendations regarding financing/affordability. These include a general obligation bond that would support a revolving fund for capital needs; a larger bond to support construction and renovation of facilities; increased allocations for operating and capital budgets; a reinstated Challenge Grant program; and increased student financial aid. The report is critical of unfunded mandates and over-regulation and recommends that the legislature not impose tuition caps, which infringe on an institution’s ability to meet the academic needs of its students.