Corzine and Forrester discuss education

Gubernatorial candidates Sen. Jon Corzine and Doug Forrestor articulated the need to work at keeping N.J. students in the state for college at a forum held Monday in the Music Building Concert Hall.

The New Jersey Presidents’ Council, a body composed of representatives from 50 public, private and community colleges and universities across the state, sponsored the event, moderated by Kent Manahan, senior anchor at New Jersey Network (NJN) News.

Manahan gave the candidates, Democrat Corzine and his Republican opponent Forrester, a chance to elucidate their positions on higher education. In separate sessions, Forrester taking the stage first, the candidates made opening remarks before fielding questions written by audience members.

The views of the candidates in their two separate sessions, however, did not diverge radically from each other’s. Without providing much detail, both men said the future economic health of the state rests, in large part, on the shoulders of its college students.

“We should be able to articulate the relationship between higher education and economic policy,” Forrester said. “People must understand the inextricable link between intellectual community and economic growth.”

Echoing Forrester, Corzine said “Higher education is the most important economic growth tool at our disposal.”

Both men cited the need to increase capacity in the state’s colleges and universities, since New Jersey is the nation’s most densely populated state.

“We send far too many of our brightest young men and young women out of state because we don’t have the choices,” Corzine said.

“New Jersey has two-thirds the space it needs for higher education,” Forrester said. “We will have a plan in place for an additional 50 percent.” Forrester also noted that New Jersey ranks 45th out of 50 states in per-capita enrollment in public schools.

Both candidates pledged additional funding for scholarships, with Forrester pledging to revamp financial aid packages for students. Although tuition increases have been an issue of focus, Forrester rejected the idea of imposing a tuition cap.

“I understand the motive for tuition caps,” Forrester said, “but as a business person, I think that would be counterproductive.”

The Corzine campaign has outlined plans to provide 4,000 new Tuition Assistance Grants (TAG), as well as fully fund said grants for low-income students. Corzine has also proposed creating a program to forgive $1,000 in loans for students who work in high-need sectors of the state.

Corzine also has proposed creating a program to forgive $1,000 of loans for students who attended school out of state, but work in state in high-need industries.

Corzine said his higher education plan would cost $9 million its first year, and expand to $35 million by the fourth year.

To fund their higher education initiatives, both candidates cited the need to form partnerships between the public and private sectors.

“I believe we got them on the record with some good issues for us,” College President R. Barbara Gitenstein said after the forum. “I think we heard the stances we want to hear, that both candidates want to see higher education at the top of their platforms.”