Time to invest in higher ed facilities is now!

By R. Barbara Gitenstein, President of The College of New Jersey, and Brian Markison, Trustee of The College of New Jersey and President and Chief Executive Officer of Fougera Pharmaceuticals Inc.

While New Jersey joins Alabama and Montana among only five states in the nation that have made zero investment in higher education facilities during the last five years, our neighbors in New York and Connecticut, who compete with New Jersey aggressively to attract businesses and jobs in critical economic sectors, are investing hundreds of millions of dollars annually in higher education facilities. This November, when New Jersey voters head to the polls for the next presidential election, they will have an opportunity to change this disturbing and economically detrimental trend. This year’s ballot asks voters to consider the first bond issue for higher education facilities in 24 years, and passage will undoubtedly bolster the state economy while helping reduce the future financial burden on our students and their families.

Both Governor Christie and the State Legislature have supported bringing a higher education facilities bond issue to the voters, because 1) they recognize its passage would create jobs; 2) they appreciate that such a measure is both long overdue and essential if our colleges and universities are to serve the needs of the state, its students and its business community; and 3) they understand that the absence of state investment in higher education facilities has driven up higher education costs for students and their parents.

The proposed bond issue will support construction of academic facilities only and will be divided among New Jersey’s public 4-year colleges and universities, its county colleges, and the majority of the state’s private colleges. That means the projects financed by this effort will directly improve the overall strength of higher education in New Jersey as well as the number and quality of graduates we produce.

At The College of New Jersey, our intention is to invest any dollars received from this bond issue in the construction of a facility that will serve programs in science, technology, engineering, math and healthcare while creating opportunities for cross-disciplinary study in a number of areas. We want to build labs and spaces that encourage innovation and prepare students for advanced research or to hit the ground running in their professional careers. We want this facility to be a resource for our campus and for enterprising businesses that will partner with our faculty and students to create, innovate, explore and grow. The facility we envision is already a priority initiative for The College, but we do not have the resources available to proceed without successful passage of the proposed bond issue.

Why does that matter to you? Here are a few reasons.

First, an infusion of state support for necessary facilities will relieve some of the financial burden from students and their families. That means the fees they pay in the future will be moderated as we initiate projects necessary to achieve our educational mission.

Second, the building we envision could provide needed lab spaces for programs in bio-medical, electrical, mechanical, and civil engineering as well as nursing, computer science, math, and the physical, natural, and health sciences. From an educational perspective, such a multi-purpose lab facility creates opportunities for cross-disciplinary research and study that can spur innovation and take learning to a profoundly higher level. The physical location of this structure would be in relatively close proximity to The College’s School of Business and School of Education buildings, creating a nexus for coupling STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) innovation with business and educational theory and practice. The possibilities are exciting and endless.

Third, the construction of this type of facility, alone, would create several hundred quality jobs for the duration of the project. We would be putting hundreds of people to work for multiple years. The type of jobs created by this project would be primarily in the construction trades as well as in engineering and architecture. Additionally, permanent employment opportunities within the building would result upon opening the facility.

Fourth, the regional and local economic benefits of this plan are clear. In addition to creating jobs, such a project would enable The College to produce more and better engineers, nurses, doctors, educators and scientists. Those are the people who innovate, create and serve our state’s vital needs. They are economic drivers. Also, the construction of this facility would enable The College to become an even better partner with private industry in ways that will help companies expand, develop new products, and provide practical research experience to our students. This could further create revenue streams that would help control student costs.

Perhaps the greatest challenge we face in difficult economic times is mustering the courage to invest when an opportunity presents itself. The higher education facilities bond issue New Jersey voters will consider this November is an opportunity to be courageous and proactive in enhancing our collective future. It is an investment, not an expenditure, and the scope of this investment pales in comparison to the return our state will realize from its passage, now and for decades to come.