College plans for a financially sound future

The higher education roundtable discussion held Nov. 12 was centered on developing rational financial and investment goals for the spring semester.

“I don’t think we can say that New Jersey has contributed the least to higher education, but we have had the most significant cuts over the last three years and we have the lowest percentage of the state budget dedicated to higher education,” College President R. Barbara Gitenstein said.

In previous years, the College has responded to educational cuts with more conservative administrative spending.

However, with the recent passage of President Bush’s Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA), which was signed into law Aug. 14, there has been an increase in the number of reporting requirements to qualify for institutional aid.

“At this point we are anticipating the data we will need to have on hand so that we are ready to respond when requested,” Paula Maas, executive director of the Center for Institutional Effectiveness, said. “However, the HEOA will also impact other areas of campus that have not previously had to report or comply with legislation such as this, and those offices will need to determine how they will be allocating the additional workload.”

According to those present at the discussion, if the state faces more cuts to higher education, middle-class families will find it harder than ever to afford a college education.

In fact, according to Matthew Golden, executive director of Public Relations and Communications, it is the middle class that will be hit hardest by the economic crunch.

Golden said rising energy costs and declining values on retirement investments will make it hard for families to find the collateral to back education-based loans.

According to Gitenstein, although in a recent address to college and university presidents Gov. Jon Corzine said he had no present plans for mid-year cuts to higher education, he added that in light of the current economic climate, next year looks bleak.

“Even in difficult times you must always remember to invest,” Gitenstein said. “The long-term effects for not investing in higher education are so much worse.”

All those participating in the discussion agreed the College and other state institutions are long due for funding from the state.

Gitenstein said, however, that the College has proven its resiliency through the budget cuts.

Despite the decrease in state funding, the College’s ranking has steadily increased, and Gitenstein’s budget targets for the following year are designed to continue that positive trend.

According to Gitenstein, the College plans to allocate a large portion of its budget to safety and security, which has been an issue since 2001.

The College’s conservative use of funding has put the College in better economic shape with the current crunch, Gitenstein said.

Although exact numbers could not be furnished by Golden, the president assured that there have not been any faculty cuts during her tenure and there is no expectation for a decrease in enrollment for the following academic year.

She also said there has been an even greater level of projected interest in the College from both in- and out-of-state students, and administrators are developing new strategies to address the huge demand.

With the College’s high graduation and retention rates and its academically competitive reputation, its success as an institution is not the real issue, Gitenstein said.

“What I always hope to communicate as our image is that we are advocating for additional funding for higher education in the state of New Jersey and for (the College),” Gitenstein said. “You must tackle the two because if you only focus on (the College) it won’t resonate.”

The Student Government Association (SGA) plans to invest more time in the Garden State Student Alliance (GSSA), which has compiled a “Student’s Bill of Rights” with thousands of signatures to be presented to state legislatures.

“(State Legislatures) have to see that we’re serious about higher education,” Mike Strom, student general chair of GSSA, said.

Strom said SGA also plans to use the momentum of the recent presidential election to get more students involved in the politics of higher education.

In the end, according to Gitenstein, the fight for more higher education funding is a complex political process. However difficult the fight, she said she has full confidence in SGA’s competence.

“We have an image, and it’s a very good image,” Gitenstein said. “(The College’s) SGA is very well prepared, articulate and knowledgeable.”