Gov. Jon S. Corzine proposed a state budget last Tuesday that would cut funding to higher education by $169 million. The “drastic cuts” could have a “devastating impact” on the College, College President R. Barbara Gitenstein said in a campuswide e-mail sent last Wednesday afternoon.
“We are working out scenarios; none of them good. They will include increases in tuition and cuts to expenditure. I have grave concerns about the impact to the parents and students in increased costs and in loss of services and programs,” Gitenstein said in an e-mail interview for The Signal.
The College’s base appropriation would be cut by $4 million, more than 10 percent. In addition, the proposed $30.9 billion budget would not fund $4 million in salary program increases for the College and it would phase out the Outstanding Scholar Recruitment Program (OSRP), eliminating state-funded merit scholarships for incoming freshmen.
“I want to point out that higher education has received significant cuts in each of the last four years. I have never used words like ‘drastic’ and ‘devastating’ until this year,” Gitenstein said. “This is the most extreme cut in higher education that I have ever experienced in my professional life and my colleagues have made similar comments.”
Schools across the state are bracing for the consequences of the proposal.
The president of Rutgers University, Richard L. McCormick, “forecast not only higher tuition but layoffs, the cancellation of hundreds of classes and reductions in essential student services,” according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.
The proposed budget is subject to change. State legislators have a July 1 deadline to approve a budget, which is when the budget is scheduled to take effect.
“Governor Corzine’s proposal will now be debated and modified by legislators in the State Assembly and Senate who will work to gain support for the programs and issues that concern their constituents,” Gitenstein said in the campuswide e-mail.
Gitenstein said in the interview that she hopes students join her in advocating for the restoration of OSRP funding.
More than one-third of each class at the College currently receives OSRP scholarships, she said.
While current students will not lose their OSRP scholarship under the proposed budget, Gitenstein said she is concerned that the loss of future OSRP scholarships might discourage incoming students from attending the College.
“I will do everything in my power to prevent that from happening through an active advocacy program to restore OSRP,” she said. “I will be engaging a wide range of constituencies in this advocacy, including other presidents. I would hope that the student body would take part in this advocacy. Whether the proposal affects a student’s scholarship or not, the loss of the program affects the College as a whole.”
Nadine Stern, chief information officer for the divisions of Information Technology and Student Services, said that OSRP, which started in 1998, increased the enrollment and retention of high-achieving New Jersey high school graduates in New Jersey colleges.
“Without the program we may see more of our highly achieving high school students attend out-of-state colleges,” Stern said. “This is a disadvantage to the state as we strive to build our economic base into the future.”
Matt Golden, director of Communications and Media Relations, said the proposed phase-out of the merit scholarship program would reduce access to educational opportunities and exacerbate the state’s “brain drain” problem – losing students to colleges in other states.
“Keeping New Jersey’s best and brightest students in-state for their education and, ultimately, their professional careers has benefits across a multitude of economic sectors,” he said.
The Philadelphia Inquirer reported on March 22 that “New Jersey already leads the country in losing students to out-of-state colleges.”
“The loss of the OSRP program would be very bad for the College and it would be disastrous for the state,” Gitenstein said. “The Higher Education Student Assistance Authority conducted a study last year that evaluated OSRP and concluded that it was a program that successfully met its goals of stemming the tide of the brain drain to other states of some of the most academically talented (New Jersey) students. The study recommended continuing the program and placing it in statute.”
College officials and the Student Government Association (SGA) plan to lobby for more funding and are suggesting ways students can contribute to the effort.
“Without a doubt, the SGA and students of (the College) will be active,” SGA President Annelise Catanzaro said. On Friday afternoon, Catanzaro met with Gitenstein, Patrice Coleman-Boatwright, associate vice president for the office of Public Affairs, and Barbara Wineberg, treasurer, “to talk specifically about how students can help lobby for more funding,” Catanzaro said.
SGA plans to set up a table in Brower Student Center today to begin a postcard-writing campaign to the state legislature, Catanzaro said. The table will also be set up on Accepted Students Day, when the incoming freshmen and their parents visit, she said, so they can also contribute.
Catanzaro said that she is scheduled to meet with Corzine, along with about 15 other college student leaders, on Thursday to discuss higher education funding.
From an official standpoint, Gitenstein said, “We will inform parents of incoming OSRP-eligible students of the governor’s proposal and indicate that the College will meet its obligation for the portion of the scholarship that is institutionally funded and urge these parents to advocate for full restoration of the program.”
Golden said the letter to incoming freshmen about the possible loss of state-funded merit scholarships “explains the potential state cuts and provides some historical background on the state budget process.”
Gitenstein has also met with Faculty Senate Executive Committee and the two students running for SGA president next year, and she will meet with the Staff Senate as soon as it can be scheduled “to discuss what their advocacy should be,” Gitenstein said.
On the positive side, the Tuition Aid Grant program, the state’s need-based program, would actually receive a small increase in funding. Still, increased tuition could make college unaffordable for students from low-income families. An editorial in The Times of Trenton on March 23 said that Corzine is “cutting higher-education aid, which will mean higher tuitions that may force some lower-income New Jerseyans to drop their dreams of college.”
Golden said there is no easy way to reduce the cost of running the College. “We enacted a very lean budget this year so that our tuition increase would be below those of most other state colleges and universities,” he said. “As a result, there simply aren’t many areas where we can derive further savings.”
Gitenstein would not speculate on what the tuition increase would be at this time. The College’s Board of Trustees will set tuition some time in July.
Corzine has said that if legislators find ways to cut spending in other areas, savings should go toward restoring higher education funds first, not reducing taxes.
He told The Bergen Record’s editorial board the day after he introduced his budget: “The harshest cut is in higher education. If we can find savings, I would put it there first.”
Corzine has said that the state is “pretty much broke” and that “reductions and constraints on growth have to fall in areas where the state controls spending – areas as sensitive and important as K-12 and higher education, health care and municipal aid.”
Although Gitenstein does not agree with his drastic cuts in higher education funding, she said, “I admire the forthrightness and honesty of his approach to the budget problems of the state.”
The office of Public Affairs’ budget Web site contains information about proposed budget cuts, links to related news stories and ways to contact local legislators and the governor’s office to advocate for the restoration of higher education funding. The page can be found at tcnj.edu/~ccr/news/2006/budget/index.html.