Assembly lawmakers told higher ed funding is not keeping up with needs

TRENTON – Higher education student populations are rising, but institutions are ultimately receiving less and less state funding, says at least one of the state’s higher education officials.

The Assembly Budget Committee heard from the state’s top higher education officials Thursday, who told lawmakers that flat budget funding is not doing enough to keep up with the rising demand and pressures felt by higher education institutions in the state.

Susan Cole, chairwoman of the New Jersey Presidents’ Council, urged members of the Assembly Budget Committee to consider how funding is not keeping up with rising student populations.

“Clearly, the proposed budget does not yet address those serious issues and once again, we bring them to the attention of the budget committee with the hope that you might include them in part of your deliberations,” Cole said.

What’s more, Cole argued, is the funding does little to keep up with inflation and increased mandates put on higher education institutions.

However, Rochelle Hendricks, the secretary of Higher Education, is quick to point out to lawmakers that flat funding is a sign of the times.

“While we would all love the day … when this state can make real investment,” she said, “The level funding, quite frankly, is ahead of many other states.”

The governor’s Fiscal Year 2014 proposed budget recommends a 1 percent increase in funding over FY 2013 levels, according to the budget.

Both Cole and Hendricks were quick to laud lawmakers, however, for passing a higher education bond proposal last year that will infuse billions of dollars into college campuses for upgrades.

The proposal was passed by the Legislature last year and then approved by voters.

“We achieved great things together,” Hendricks said. “For the first time in 25 years, the state is providing real support for expansion and improving facilities.”