As the old saying goes, when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. If the members of the Student Government Association (SGA) remember that axiom this year, we can find new opportunity and relevance in a time of across-the-board budget cuts.
The College was certainly given a large, sour and yellow piece of fruit last spring when Gov. Jon Corzine’s proposed budget slashed over $12 million from the school’s appropriation, a substantial and unprecedented cut.
While a third of this money was restored thanks to the lobbying efforts of the school as well as legislative compromise, the remaining $8 million in reduced funding is certainly a burden on students who now face markedly higher tuition as well as faculty and administrators who now have limited resources to work with.
Moreover, New Jersey’s own financial troubles continue to forecast another deficit and a repeat of this year’s issues for next year.
While this cash-flow problem may make some lose hope for finding a solution, I believe we need to take precisely the opposite tactic this year.
A strong, dynamic and fresh approach to lobbying can begin to rid the College, and higher education in the state, of their troubles while accomplishing the laudable goal of getting students politically motivated.
The ambitious agenda that I propose is not one that will be built in a month or even a year, but it is one that we can all eventually benefit from. It is one that rejects the status quo, rewards good performance and rather than focusing on one college, it will make the entire state more competitive, both educationally and economically.
The first part of my initiative is to begin relieving students from the excessive tuition they now pay. It is unrealistic to expect a sudden increase in funding to higher education any time soon, but that does not mean students should not see relief.
Tuition tax credits should be increased for students and their families who chose to go to New Jersey colleges, and these credits should be increased for college graduates who stay in the state after graduation.
Moreover, it has become increasingly difficult for many students to find good jobs while attending school. The solutions include increasing incentives for businesses to hire college students (especially in fields related to their majors), and creating “College Enterprise Zones” with reduced sales taxes and other incentives that will encourage employers to invest in areas near colleges.
In addition, schools must look at privatizing more services and revising core curricula, Liberal Learning for example, so students do not have to stay for extra semesters.
The second component is far more long-term and tackles the issue that is causing the chronic shortages of cash. For a highly-educated state adjoining two large cities, New Jersey’s economic performance has been sluggish at best and abysmal at worst with a one-percent rise in unemployment over the past year during a period of overall good national economic health.
With many afraid of high taxes and burdensome unions, New Jerseyans our age must start lobbying for a change in the way our state’s economy is managed.
We must create new incentives to get international firms to make investments in the Garden State, including the creation of two “Research Triangles” in North and Central Jersey where scientific research and development can be done.
Since such activity is the future of our economy, I also want to expand scholarships and credits for engineering, chemistry and biology majors.
This is a large agenda, but luckily our school has the perfect organization for advocating for such a plan: our student government. Many still feel SGA does little to affect their lives at the College – the low voter turnout in last spring’s election reflects that ambivalence.
By fully embracing and working to achieve these lobbying goals, SGA can better relate to the majority of students and make the College an even better place to attend.