Education - New Jersey's Shining Gem

As we officially kick off the summer season this month and witness the daily pilgrimage to the Jersey Shore, I am reminded of the many blessings we have in the Garden State.

Certainly, we have some of the most gorgeous beaches in the nation, but New Jersey is also the birthplace and/or residence of some of the most recognized and talented actors, actresses, musicians, artists, inventors, scientists and athletes. We have multiple thriving tech centers scattered across the state. New Jersey is also where the best and brightest in the medical field offer the finest in healthcare at some of the nation's top hospitals and medical centers. Clearly, our state's leading medical and nursing schools combined with an estimated 3,000 pharmaceutical, biotech and medical device companies contribute to our enviable standing in the healthcare sector.  

Perhaps the single greatest thing that New Jersey has to offer - and oftentimes the most overlooked - is the quality and diversity of its educational institutions both public and private.  As president of Felician University, I know firsthand of the valuable contributions made by institutions of higher learning in our state, especially the fourteen independent and nonprofit colleges and universities that serve over 65,000 undergraduate, graduate, and adult learners.

The value of education - to be a better citizen, to be a contributor to society, to have more choices about what careers to pursue - is what education has always been about and will continue to be about.  Eighty-four percent of Felician graduates, for example, are employed or in graduate school within six months of graduation. As most of our alumni are New Jersey residents, this suggests that we support the workforce needs of our state. Societal benefits are significant, too.  Values of social justice and transformation permeate our campus, and in turn our students bring those values throughout our communities in New Jersey.

In an op-ed published in the Dallas Morning News on Tax Day this past April, Governor Murphy touted our state's educational system saying, "Through years of investment in public education and our world-class colleges and universities, we also boast one of the world's most highly educated and skilled workforces, ranking 5th in the percentage of our residents with bachelor's degrees according to the latest census data..."  

Governor Murphy was spot on in his response to Texas Governor, Greg Abbott, who criticized New Jersey in an opinion piece published in the Star Ledger.  We are thankful for the state's investment in our "world-class colleges and universities” and applaud the Governor's proposed budget increases in support of the Tuition Assistance Grant (TAG) and Equal Opportunity Fund (EOF) programs, which enable so many underserved students to attend and graduate college. 

Speaking as president of one of the fourteen independent colleges and universities in our state, and a proud member of the Independent Colleges and Universities of New Jersey (AICUNJ), I encourage state legislators to support increases in TAG and EOF funding and to also consider boosting direct operating aid from the state. In 2018, the independent colleges and universities in New Jersey received a total of one million dollars in operating aid, which equates to a mere $15 per student - and with no increase in funding going back several years.  Simply put, we need and deserve more direct operating aid from the state.

As AICUNJ Board Chair and President of Caldwell University President, Nancy Blattner, said in a recent commentary

"AICUNJ schools provide exceptional value and are critical to New Jersey’s ability to reclaim its position as a national leader in the innovation economy. One out of every four students at four-year colleges and universities in the state – approximately 65,000 in all –attends an AICUNJ higher education institution. Fourteen percent of students who are attending AICUNJ schools this year will pay no tuition, and 40 percent will pay less than $10,000. This is thanks to the nearly $900 million in institutional financial aid that our member institutions provide in addition to state and federal financial aid. Moreover, our institutions successfully leveraged the $108.5 million provided by the 2012 Building Our Future Bond Act into over $1.225 billion in construction and capital investments between 2016-2018 alone."  

Bravo Nancy for shining a light on the incredible value brought to New Jersey through Felician University and our fellow AICUNJ members - Bloomfield College, Caldwell University, Centenary University, College of St. Elizabeth, Drew University, Fairleigh Dickinson University, Georgian Court University, Monmouth University, Princeton University, Rider University, Saint Peter’s University, Seton Hall University, and Stevens Institute of Technology.

I recognize and appreciate the tremendous pressure our state legislators are under as they work with Governor Murphy to finalize New Jersey's budget this month.  I can only ask that in considering TAG, EOF and direct operating aid to our schools, legislators keep education high on their list of priorities - as our institutions of higher learning bring tremendous value to New Jersey's social and economic wellbeing.

Peace and All Good,

Anne M. Prisco, Ph.D.