I attended Monday’s higher education “round table” run by the Assembly budget committee. It was an interesting session. Members of the committee were joined by several higher education representatives.
Much of the discussion centered around student aid and recent cuts to higher education. There also a lot of talk about the Kean Commission’s recent report. The report was often referred to as the “blueprint we have been waiting for” as a guiding force for higher ed’s future in New Jersey.
A theme familiar to New Jerseyans emerged – that of “shared services” and what universities are doing to reduce costs. The higher ed representatives gave several examples from their campuses (reduced budgets, hiring freezes, layoffs, no salary increases) as evidence that they have also been responsible budget stewards.
However, cutting budgets was not the only response discussed. Chairman Lou Greenwald (a Seton Hall alumnus) asked, “How do we show the ROI (Return on Investment) for money the state contributes to higher education?” Several respondents remarked that residents earning college degrees typically enjoy higher incomes and standards of living, that many colleges partner with corporations, and that, as one person said, “prosperity depends on colleges and universities” to produce a well-educated workforce.
Significant discussion then ensued about re-working current student financial aid models.
The “round table” discussion was an innovative way to discuss the pressing issues confronting the state’s higher education community. No doubt, the committee will take the information it heard at the discussion in order to help craft the state’s FY12 budget.