New Jersey Commission on Higher Education

October 1996

Editorial - "Higher Education in New Jersey:
Looking Ahead to Continued Success"

by Alfred J. Cade, Chair, NJ Commission on Higher Education

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Just over two years ago, Governor Christine Todd Whitman signed the Higher Education Restructuring Act, which established the Commission on Higher Education and the Presidents’ Council as the new entities entrusted with planning, coordination and advocacy for New Jersey’s higher education system. This new governance structure increased the autonomy of institutional governing boards while preserving essential coordination among our 56 public and independent colleges and universities.

From my perspective as a member of the Commission on Higher Education, the first two years of restructuring were extremely successful. The Higher Education Restructuring Act established an ambitious agenda for the Commission, and we are proud of all we accomplished.

A statutorily required interim assessment of restructuring indicated growing support. Based on surveys of over 400 agencies and individuals, conducted 20 months after restructuring, the Commission and Presidents’ Council reported to Governor Whitman and the Legislature that positive opinions about the new governance structure outweighed negative views; those with the greatest knowledge about restructuring were most supportive of the change.

College and university governing boards received high marks in terms of decision-making and accountability. Trustee boards, the Commission, and Presidents’ Council were praised for their timeliness in addressing issues as well as cooperation among the various entities.

While many challenges remain, the interim assessment indicates considerable progress in developing and nurturing the new governance structure. As the new chairman of the Commission on Higher Education, I intend to continue that early success and build upon the sound foundation forged during its first two years. Looking toward the future, a few fundamental principles emerge as critical to the continued success of higher education restructuring.

First and foremost, I believe the needs of students should drive the actions of the Commission and the rest of the higher education community. As we consider policy, develop funding recommendations, and undertake long-range planning, we must ask ourselves, “Does this serve the needs of students? Will this make campuses a better place to study? Will this enhance students’ learning opportunities?”

While students must be our paramount concern, the needs of the state and the people of New Jersey should be another litmus test for policy and decision-making at the state level, and at individual colleges and universities. At every opportunity, I will encourage institutions to let the needs of students and society guide their actions. Doing so will benefit our institutions, our higher education system, and our state as a whole.

As we approach the new millennium, our competitive global economy is rapidly reshaping the needs of students. Increasingly, the work place demands advanced learning and continuous training. New Jerseyans depend upon a strong higher education system to meet their needs for undergraduate and graduate study, professional preparation, technical skills, occupational training, and basic instruction. We must keep campus facilities and technology up-to-date, so that education and training programs respond to the realities of the work place. Through flexible scheduling and distance learning, we must enhance access to these programs for the growing number of non-traditional students.

We must also safeguard affordability and preserve access to higher education for all residents with the interest and potential to learn. Without affordable tuition and well-funded student assistance programs, we risk becoming a society in which only a portion of our citizens have the opportunity to advance and prosper.

One of my goals as chairman of the Commission is to be an effective advocate for higher education, ensuring that people throughout New Jersey recognize it as one of New Jersey’s most important and valuable resources. The colleges and universities in our state provide both tangible and intangible benefits to all New Jerseyans. Whether or not they ever attend one of these institutions, every resident has a stake in higher education. It develops the state’s intellectual capital and educates responsible citizens and future leaders. It helps to make New Jersey an attractive place to live and work.

Higher education institutions touch many aspects of New Jerseyans’ daily lives. Our colleges and universities contribute to the cultural and intellectual richness of our society. They work closely with elementary and secondary schools to improve teaching and enhance learning at all levels. They provide health care services at their hospitals and also perform many other important public services.

Higher education is an economic engine that helps to drive the state’s economic growth and improve our future standard of living. Along with a wide range of degree programs, New Jersey colleges offer myriad job training programs that enable individuals to acquire and upgrade their work skills and stay competitive in the workforce. Not only do participants benefit from greater job security and higher wages, but all New Jerseyans profit from the state’s enhanced economic health.

In addition to undergraduate, graduate and professional education, institutions engage in basic and applied research and a wide variety of economic development efforts. For example, Advanced Technology Centers at the state’s research universities conduct cutting-edge research and share new technologies with industry. Small Business Development Centers at colleges and universities throughout the state provide technical assistance to growing businesses. Again, the benefits of these higher education efforts extend far beyond the businesses directly aided.

Our higher education system is a critical component of New Jersey’s infrastructure. I like to think of higher education as a renewable resource. If we maintain our colleges and universities and keep them strong, they will provide an ongoing contribution to our state. Through education, training, research, and public service, higher education helps New Jersey toward a better tomorrow.

Statistics show that college graduates, and even students who complete postsecondary programs that do not lead to a degree, have higher employment rates and higher salaries that those who do not purse education beyond high school graduation. For example, according to U.S. Census Data for New Jersey, the average salary for someone with a bachelor’s degree is 69 percent higher than for someone with just a high school diploma, while the salary for someone with a professional degree averages 223 percent more.

Clearly, that lifetime of higher earnings more than repays an individual’s investment in education. Similarly, as citizens, we must recognize that the dividends we earn in terms of economic growth and future quality of life more than repay our investment in New Jersey’s higher education system. As chairman of the Commission, I will work with the higher education community to focus upon the needs of students, the state, and the people of New Jersey. If the state and its citizens value and support higher education, our system can meet those important needs and earn a place among the best in the world.

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