Christie Releases FY13 Budget; Higher Ed Sees Some Gains

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (a Seton Hall Law School alumnus) delivered his budget address to the NJ Legislature on Tuesday, February 21.  Higher education, public and private, saw a proposed increase of $107 million, or 5.4%, from the FY12 budget.

There was a mix of good and disappointing news for the state’s 14 independent colleges and universities.  There was hope that some level of direct assistance through the Independent College and University Aid Act (ICUAA) would be restored.  The Act was originally passed years ago in recognition of the public benefit that independent (private) colleges and universities provide.  Funding through the Aid Act was cut in the FY11 and 12 budgets.

There was good news in that funding for Tuition Aid Grants (TAG) was increased by 10%, to $325 million.  TAG awards go to the neediest (income-wise) students to complement federal funding they receive.  In many cases the TAG awards provide the financial difference in whether those students will be able to attend college.

With the release of the Governor’s proposed budget, things will certainly heat up in Trenton as the Legislature will now hear from numerous organizations.  The new budget begins on July 1.

Obama Sets Sights on Higher Ed Costs

In just a couple weeks it seems the debate about the cost of a college education moved from overdrive to light speed.  What kicked the discussion into a higher gear was President Obama’s call for a “shared responsibility” among federal government, states, colleges and universities to “promote access and affordability in higher education”.

The President sent colleges and universities a strong message: rein in tuition hikes or suffer the consequences.  Specifically, he said colleges that can show they are providing students with good long-term value will be rewarded with additional dollars.  Those that don’t “act responsibly” in setting tuition will receive less campus-based aid.

How will things like “good long-term value”, “additional dollars” and “act responsibly in setting tuition” be measured?  That remains to be seen.  As the debate shapes up, higher ed officials are already in high gear reaching out to their contacts in the executive branch and in Congress to share their perspective on the President’s challenge.

Seton Hall has been at the forefront of the issue.  Several months ago, the university announced its initiative to drastically lower tuition for students meeting certain academic standards.  This initiative mirrors less-public efforts the university already provided to make tuition more affordable.  It also eliminates the uncertainty about the real cost of tuition for those students who qualify.

I suspect that the debate about college affordability – and what folks see as the solutions to address it – have only just begun.  Transparency in pricing, federal student aid, decreased state aid, and the role of endowments in making tuition affordable for more families are all topics that will come under greater scrutiny.  What is clear is that this is not an issue that is going to go away.  What was at light speed will likely be at warp speed soon enough.