Higher Costs for Higher Education

Week by week, we have been trying to chronicle the effects of the devastating cuts to the state’s higher education budget. The story is massive, the repercussions more far-reaching than we could ever hope to elucidate.

As we all know by now, the College lost more than $8 million in state funding this fiscal year. This is the latest and most costly cut in what has become an annual display of diminishing state support for its institutions of higher learning.

Since 2002, when the cuts began, the College has sought ways to tighten its belt. We have seen faculty and staff positions left vacant (we thank Beth Paul for becoming the College’s permanent interim administrator) or eliminated entirely. We have seen our enrollment increase. We have seen energy-saving initiatives. We have been forced to rely ever increasingly on private sector donations to fund programs. We have been told to provide our own toilet paper, our own light bulbs. Worst of all, we have seen our tuition bills getting ever higher, jumping from just over $5,000 for an in-state student for the 2001-02 school year, to this year’s grand total of $7,615.

And we have taken it all in stride. We have sympathized with every effort. We have written to our legislators. We have staked out the Statehouse. We have demonstrated for deaf ears.

In the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education’s recently released National Report Card on Higher Education, New Jersey was graded a D in terms of affordability. Perhaps, though, we should smile at this mark, considering that 43 states were given an F.

According to the report, the average family in New Jersey – the wealthiest state in this blessed union – will devote 37 percent of its annual income to put a student through college this year.

It should be noted as well that the country’s richest state is also home to its poorest city, Camden, where the average household income is just $18,000 a year.

These poor marks are a slap in the face to the rest of New Jersey’s exemplary educational ranking. We received an A in preparation for higher education, and an A- in participation.

It may be years before New Jersey lawmakers come to their senses. Maybe it will happen when they see the state’s best students being siphoned out of the state or to big-name private schools rather than staying here at home. And a one-time $1,000 scholarship (more like signing bonus) is not much of an enticement.

New Jersey’s students are ready, willing and able. But unfortunately, in these times of tighter job markets and fiercer competition, with the rest of the world looking with hungry eyes at the lofty American standard of living, we are not granted equal opportunities to learn.

All we are really learning is that it is not ability that counts so much as it is your parents’ bankroll.