College president: ‘Tool kit’ bills could help higher ed

TRENTON – The unpassed bills in Gov. Christie’s so-called “tool kit,’’ including Civil Service reform, would go a long way toward helping financially beleaguered N.J. higher-education institutions, a college president told the Assembly Budget Committee today.

Thomas Edison State College President George Pruitt said that if the state is going to impose mandates then it must also give college officials the ability to meet them.

“When the state drives up our costs, and cuts our appropriations, there is only one place for us to go,’’ Pruitt said, and that is increasing tuition.

His comments came during a roundtable discussion between several higher-education officials and the Budget panel.

In addition to reforming Civil Service, there are other bills in the pipeline but unacted upon such as one that would update procurement practices, he said. In addition, the practice of having the state – not the individual colleges – negotiating labor pacts is a decades-old legacy that should be addressed, he told the committee.

“We need to have the state acknowledge its responsibility,” Pruitt said.

Committee member Gary Schaer, (D-36), Passaic, cautioned the educators, however, that it is unrealistic to look at the state as the answer to the money problem.

“The funds are not there,’’ Schaer said, not in a difficult economy when the lawmakers are hearing funding problems from so many other departments such as those dealing with the homeless and developmental disabilities.

Relying primarily on the state won’t take higher education where it needs to be, he said.

Montclair State University President Susan Cole agreed with that, and said it is necessary to be creative in finding solutions.

“The reason these institutions exist is to serve the state,’’ she said.  But if the state wants improved graduation rates, better diversity in the student bodies, or newer science and technology facilities some of that should be reflected in the state appropriations, she said.

“We have to be creative and take the burden off the state,’’ Cole said.

Public-private partnerships have helped, the college leaders told the panel. 

They renewed their request for a bond referendum to provide funding for new, up-to-date facilities to help stem the tide of students and faculty leaving the state.

She said that when needs were assessed several years ago they estimated $6 billion would be needed, but they recognize that a more realistic figure needs to be put before voters. 

In 2005, they proposed $2.7 billion for a bond referendum but that never was put before the voters. Seven years later that figure might have grown to $3.5 billion, but Cole said whatever figure lawmakers decide upon would be welcomed and they urged that it lead to a revolving fund so that 20 years from now the problem is not repeated.

For the 12 senior public institutions in the state, from fiscal year 2006 to fiscal year 2012, enrollment rose 17 percent from 152,000 to 178,000, but aid declined from $956 million to $716 million, she said. The fiscal year 2013 budget proposal does not impose further cuts, she said.

“Our appropriations are too low by any national standards,’’ she said.

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Education advocates seek increased funding

  College president: ‘Tool kit’ bills could help higher ed