Corzine proposes $3.7M cut to College

Gov. Jon S. Corzine recommended a $76 million cut in higher education funding during his budget address for the 2009 fiscal year on Tuesday, Feb. 26. The cut includes a $3.7 million reduction in funding for the College.

The cut was one of many of what Corzine called “painful reductions” in a proposed budget of $32.97 billion. The proposed budget is $500 million lighter than the budget passed for the 2007 fiscal year.

The $3.7 million cut to the College’s state appropriation would be a 10 percent decrease from funding this year.

College President R. Barbara Gitenstein posted her response to the governor’s budget proposal on the College’s Web site the same day. Gitenstein criticized the governor for not considering the long-term consequences of cuts to higher education funding.

“The state’s continuing disinvestment in higher education will lead to a choice between two distasteful alternatives,” she wrote that afternoon. “New Jersey’s public colleges and universities will be forced to diminish the quality of education offered to our state’s students or raise tuition significantly.”

In an e-mail interview, Gitenstein addressed the preparedness of the College in regard to the proposed budget.

“We have been scenario planning since early November,” she said.

The exact impact of the 10 percent cut is still uncertain.

“We will have to make some difficult decisions,” Gitenstein said.

To increase revenue, Gitenstein said the College could increase tuition and fees.

“Remember, this is all at the planning stage,” she said, adding that aside from the 10 percent cut to the College’s base appropriation, other factors could have a negative impact on the College’s finances, including the scaled salary increases negotiated last year between the state and unions representing most faculty and staff members.

Corzine’s proposed budget allots $38.5 million to help pay for the salary increases, but Gitenstein pointed out that it is still unknown what portion of those funds will go to the College.

In his speech Tuesday, Corzine said the reductions to higher education were among the smallest in his proposed budget.

“This is because we carry grave concerns about the level of potential tuition hikes,” he said.

In light of this, the proposed budget includes a $13.8 million increase in student financial assistance, most of which goes toward an increase in funding for need-based Tuition Aid Grants.

However, Corzine’s budget continues the phase-out of the Outstanding Scholars Recruitment Program, a scholarship that offered merit-based awards as generous as full tuition, room and board.

The leaner budget is part of a continuing response to the ongoing financial problems of the state government.

“It’s certainly not a budget designed to please,” Corzine said. “I can tell from the applause lines. But it is a prudent blueprint to meet difficult economic circumstances, correct past mistakes and it lays a foundation for a responsible future.”

Corzine’s budget proposal now awaits approval from the Legislature, due by July 1 at the latest. The College’s budget is normally completed during May or June. Gitenstein promised that the College would lobby Legislators in an effort to restore funds.

“I will be honest with you, however,” she said. “The financial situation of the state is so dire, I am not tremendously optimistic about large-scale restoration this year.”

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