5.2 million dollar cut proposed

Higher education in New Jersey faces the challenge of addressing potentially crippling cuts in state funding as announced by Governor Chris Christie’s budget proposal on March 16 for the fiscal year of 2011. The College’s share of the proposed $173 million reduction in appropriations to higher education, from $2.24 billion to $2.06 billion, is no small feat at a $5.2 million drop from $34.5 million to $29.3 million.

In an e-mail sent to the College community on March 17, President R. Barbara Gitenstein identified the effects of the Governor’s proposal on the College as “extraordinary,” as the College, if the governor’s budget is approved, will receive less money from the state than it did a decade ago.

The governor’s proposal follows a history of cuts to higher education, Gitenstein said in an interview.

“This is eight in 11 years that higher education has been hit,” she said. “That’s what’s so hard for a place like (the College) is that we have been carefully marshalling our resources so that we continue to maintain our mission … but after a while the edges get smaller … We haven’t talked about programs in the past.”

Gitenstein said it isn’t likely that any programs will be cut next year, as the procedure for academic and non-academic program closure require extensive conversation. This is the first year program cancellation has been explored in regards to the budget Gitenstein said, as it is an unfavorable resolution to budgetary problems.

“You can’t address this with cuts. Otherwise you won’t have the programs students are coming here to take,” she said. “There are no extraneous programs at (the College) … but we need to balance the budget.”

The College’s budget for 2010 has been closed following a two million dollar mid-year cut, Gitenstein said, with the use of money saved from union worker furloughs and delayed salary increases last year.

In order to address the proposed $5.2 million cut for 2011, Gitenstein said the first step, following advocating for the cut to be reduced, will be to use the remaining one million to $1.7 million left from furloughs and salary deferment.

To further account for the College’s $8.8 million budget deficit, 50 percent of the money will likely be drawn from cuts to permanent expenditures, temporary reductions and revenue enhancements, Gitenstein said, while the other half will be from tuition and fee increases.

The budget proposal also affects financial assistance, which will experience a $15.2 million reduction from $346.1 million to $330.9 million if the proposal is passed.

The proposal calls for a $3.6 million reduction to state funding to Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF). The Tuition Aid Grant Program (TAG), a need-based tuition assistance program, will not be funded for its anticipated growth next year, meaning many families, though they qualify, will ineligible for assistance. According to Gitenstein, these changes will likely affect private institutions more.

Though current NJ STARS I and NJ STARS II scholarships will remain unaffected by the proposal, the merit-based program, which covers the tuition for community college and a four-year institution, is suspended for incoming freshman in 2011.

Gitenstein encourages students to become actively involved in advocating for a reduction in the governor’s proposed cuts by writing to legislators and becoming involved in advocacy groups on campus.

“You guys are the best argument for (the College),” she said. “You are extraordinary students, fabulous citizens, you can make our case much better than we can.”