NJASCU Statement on the Proposed 2012-2013 State Budget
April 25, 2012
The New Jersey Association of State Colleges and Universities (NJASCU) appreciates that the New Jersey Legislature is now reviewing a FY 2013 spending plan that would increase funding for student aid and would maintain the current level of direct operating support for the twelve senior colleges and universities. We also note the transfer of $5.69 million from the University of Medicine and Dentistry to support Cooper Medical School of Rowan University.
Flat funding for operations at senior public institutions keeps the direct support dollars about the same as they were during the mid-1990's, when tens of thousands fewer students were enrolled. The state colleges and universities continue to provide a high-quality education through prudent fiscal stewardship and bold steps toward greater efficiency. Moreover, the state has continued to bear the cost of fringe benefits for state-authorized positions, despite escalating costs in this area. Therefore, we do appreciate that during this time of continued fiscal challenges, the state continues to support the costs of fringe benefits for for the number of our employees authorized by the state. The state colleges will continue to pay the cost of fringe benefits for the number of employees not authorized by the state who are integral to the teaching, research, and support provided on our campuses.
We are pleased that the budget contains a $30.745 million increase in funding for the Tuition Aid Grant (TAG) program for full-time students and an increase of $10.36 million for part-time students. Also, the EOF program, which helps disadvantaged students meet their college goals, is increased by $500,000.
We are also pleased to see that the spending plan for the NJ STARS II program will conform to legislative changes that have been approved with bipartisan and higher education community support. The most important change would require the state to pay 100% of NJ STARS II scholarships, instead of requiring the senior public institutions to pay for half of the cost. The change will save the state colleges and universities about $4 million annually. In addition, the budget for FY 2013 anticipates that 100 more students will receive NJ STARS II scholarships and will now have the option of applying the scholarship to a New Jersey public or independent college (or university).
The proposed budget does fall short of our expectations in a number of areas, particularly in the context of an improving, though still challenged, New Jersey economy.
The budget contains no appropriations or bond financing for facilities renewal or capital construction. New Jersey is currently one of only five states that have provided no funding at all for higher education facilities for the past years.
Between 1980 and 1999, direct state appropriations for capital maintenance and renewal amounted to about $147 million, but the state has not provided a separate capital budget for higher education since Fiscal Year 1999.
The last general-obligation bond issue approved by the voters -- the Jobs, Education and Competitiveness Bond Act of 1988 -- amounted to $350 million.
For New Jersey's four-year institutions, the bulk of more recent state capital support has come from a series of renewable debt-capacity programs administered by the New Jersey Educational Facilities Authority. These programs, under which new bonds can be issued as old ones are retired, include the 1993 Equipment Leasing Fund, the 1994 Higher Education Facilities Trust Fund, the 1997 Higher Education Technology Infrastructure Fund, the 1999 Higher Education Capital Improvement Fund, and the 2000 Dormitory Safety Trust Fund.
A general obligation bond issue for higher education is a top priority for the entire higher education community. The cumulative need is great: an estimated $1.5 billion for the senior public colleges alone. An investment in higher education will be crucial for New Jersey to maintain and increase its competitive economic edge, and it will generate jobs and the capacity for more New Jersey students to experience college -- and first-class facilities -- in their home state.
A further disappointment is the absence of a restoration of state-authorized positions at the senior public colleges and universities, which were cut by 5% last year. With more students to serve than ever, the institutions need adequate faculty and staff. A shortfall in the number of state authorized positions means that the institutions must reimburse the state for the fringe benefits costs for each of these positions.
We are proud of the remarkable progress made by our nine state colleges and universities, which are serving more students than ever before; maintaining the public's trust; continuing to find new ways of spending our limited dollars better; partnering with local communities for economic development; exemplifying excellence in teaching and scholarship; and working to help students reach their academic goals. We have much to thank the Legislature for, most of all during these tough economic times, listening to our needs and helping bring about the regulatory changes that keep our institutions strong, entrepreneurial and efficient.