Activism needed to combat higher-education funding loss

On Feb. 26, New Jersey Gov. Jon S. Corzine delivered his annual budget address, and proposed a budget for the 2009 fiscal year. Included in this proposed budget was a $96.8 million cut to higher education, and a $3.7 million cut to the College’s base appropriation of funds.

This is a 10 percent cut from last year’s appropriation.

Combined with the cut from the 2007 fiscal year, and the funding for this fiscal year, that brings the College’s three-year, inflation-adjusted cut to 19.5 percent, leaving the College at a funding level of only 80.5 percent of where it was just three years ago.

As students, we must look at this year’s budget as nothing short of completely unacceptable.

This cut is part of a much longer trend in New Jersey that dates back to the early 80s (before most of us were even born).

In 1983, 9.8 percent of New Jersey’s budget went to higher education. Today it’s only 5 percent. New Jersey is now 42nd in the nation in this category. This is not something we should be proud of.

In 1990, the state funded about 58 percent of the College’s budget, and students funded the remaining 42 percent. Today, that number has plummeted to a mere 24 percent, leaving students to pay the remaining 76 percent of the cost of their educations.

Also, not something we should be proud of.

As a result of the state ignoring the pressing need for a quality and affordable higher education system, it now costs a New Jersey resident approximately $9,984 per year to attend a four-year public college here.

This represents the second-highest tuition cost in the country, and is $3,000 more than the national average. Just one more thing not to be proud of.

Does anyone really enjoy having to pay an extra $3,000 per year for college, because our legislators have misplaced their priorities in areas that aren’t essential to the future of this state?

If Corzine’s budget passes with these cuts to higher education, every student at this college should expect to pay at least an extra $1,000 on next year’s tuition bill, at which point we’ll undoubtedly be the most expensive state to attend public college at in the entire country.

In addition, we’ll likely see the College cut more programs, and other areas which make the College a quality higher education institution.

We’ll likely see cuts to programs including but not limited to athletic teams, extracurricular activities, student life activities, study abroad programs, technology upgrades and essential academic programs.

Yet legislators in Trenton are ignoring the higher education crisis in New Jersey because we, as the students, have not been making higher education a major issue of this budgetary season.

They’re talking about cuts to property tax rebates, cuts to charity care assistance, cuts to municipal aid and cuts to the Department of Agriculture (a cut that’s only about $500,000).

Yet higher education which has seen the most significant cuts for this budget, as well as the budget for 2007, is basically a non-issue.

Student Government Association (SGA) has met with nearly 20 legislators, both budget committees and the commission on higher education, and they all agree.

Until we, the students of New Jersey, force our elected officials to make higher education a priority in this state, we will continue to be ignored by Corzine and the Legislature and will likely find ourselves back on the chopping block for years to come.

So what can we do?

SGA has been working extremely hard to get our message out to our elected officials in Trenton, and many of them agree that higher education deserves better from the state, but it’s time for the students as a whole to take a stand.

It’s time for us to show our elected officials that we are students and we matter just as much as anyone else in this state.

These cuts to our education are unacceptable, and we need to make sure that every legislator in New Jersey hears us loud and clear.

In order to do this, SGA has planned our second annual Rally for Higher Education at the New Jersey Statehouse for Friday, May 2.

Any student who cares about receiving a high-quality and affordable education, (which should be any student reading this) is encouraged to attend.

Stand up for your rights as a student of higher education in New Jersey, and give the politicians in Trenton a piece of your mind.

By Sana Fathima
SGA senator of Engineering

Mike Peters
SGA senator of Culture and Society

and Dan Scapardine
V. P. of Legal & Governmental Affairs

Information from New Jersey Policy Perspective, The College Board, NJ College Promise, the New Jersey Association of State Colleges and Universities and Gov. Corzine’s Fiscal 2009 Budget Recommendations.