Looking Beyond the Numbers

It was encouraging to learn that Gov. Jon S. Corzine’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2008 included a $49.3 million boost for higher education, including a $1.6 million raise in the College’s base appropriation.

While the College administration is still reviewing the financial details, it is clear that the proposed budget is a whole lot kinder to the College than was last year’s. In addition, the significant increase in applications for next year’s freshman class shows that the state’s well-publicized financial woes aren’t scaring people off.

This is good news, but the long-term future of higher education in New Jersey is far more grim, especially when combining the continued phase-out of the Outstanding Scholar Recruitment Program (OSRP) with an astronomical state debt.

First of all, don’t look at the modest rise in higher education funding as the beginning of a favorable trend. Corzine repeatedly mentioned the $33 billion state debt in his speech last week, stressing that without a major restructuring of the state’s finances, future budgets will not provide funding for the many services the state needs to offer.

Corzine’s discouraging words make it clear that in coming years the higher education community will have to cope with further cuts and fight for every dollar it receives. This does not bode well for the College, which despite numerous accomplishments in the past decade has had to deal with insufficient state support.

The elimination of OSRP is baffling. When Corzine decided to increase funding for higher education, restoring OSRP should have been his first priority. But Corzine has made it obvious that OSRP is nowhere near the top of his wish list. He cut OSRP funding in his budget proposal last year, and after the State Legislature added it back in, Corzine just cut it again.

By ignoring this program, Corzine is allowing New Jersey’s brightest high school students to go to college and join the workforce in other states. This is not a good sign for a state that already experiences the greatest net loss of high school students for higher education of any state in the nation. According to the College’s Web site, 86 percent of OSRP students who were admitted to the College but did not attend enrolled in out-of-state colleges.

Furthermore, with state schools like the College struggling to make ends meet, it’s inevitable that tuition will keep rising and high school students will look elsewhere. While tuition has not been set for the 2007-08 academic year, students are already reeling after the College raised in-state tuition by 8 percent and out-of-state tuition by 15 percent last July.

The gap is closing between tuition of the College and that of bigger-name private universities, and there is insufficient merit scholarship money to entice talented students.

Admissions counselors tell prospective students and their parents that the College offers a private school education at a public school price. But based on the state’s financial crisis, it won’t be long before this motto no longer applies.