Mercer to Serve on College Affordability Study Commission

Photo by Steve Fallon

President Peter Mercer has been appointed by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to serve on the College Affordability Study Commission. The panel's 10 members, including Mercer, will be looking over issues surrounding the cost of higher education and reporting their findings within 12 months.

“I was asked by the governor, by the governor's office, if I'd be interested in being appointed,” said Mercer. “I'm probably known for being interested in the subject. I have been the College president for 10 years and one of the things that has concerned me has been funding levels for public higher education and the increasing cost. As you probably know, among the states, we're one of the highest when it comes to public higher education.”

According to a press release by Ramapo, the commission could lead to the creation of several new higher education programs. The first, titled the Accelerated Medical Degree Pilot Program, is intended for high school students looking to get a head start on medical, engineering or science degrees. The Affordable Degree Pilot Program will offer discounted tuition in an agreement between two-year community colleges and four-year public colleges. The Pay It Forward Pilot Program may replace the current system of tuition payment, and offers students the choice to pay back their student loans with a portion of their future income.

There is also the potential that the NJCLASS Loan Program will be altered to “increase disclosure and make the program more consumer-friendly for student and parent borrowers” as well as “increase the performance of the New Jersey Better Educational Savings Trust (NJBEST),” according to the press release.

Along with Mercer, the presidents of Rowan University and Rutgers University, as well as some other community members, will serve on the committee. Ramapo, however, is the smallest school to be represented. A meeting time and place have yet to be brought to Mercer’s attention, but with the 12-month total time frame, he is sure the delegations will begin soon.

While New Jersey ranks in the top five states for government funding for K through 12 education, it also ranks in the bottom five for the federal spending on higher education, which leaves more of the bill to be paid by students.

“We all know that over the last few years, until recently, the cost of higher education was increasing annually at a rate that could not be sustained. So both government and the colleges and universities themselves have to find ways of making sure that we don't continue that trend because we're in danger of pricing the public higher education out of the market,” Mercer said on the state of tuition.

Mercer hopes that his 30 years of experience in higher education administration will be useful to the College Affordability Study Commission, making him a unique member of the commission. According to Mercer, the Canadian system relies much more on public funding, and there is a greater possibility for capital funding; in Canada, tuition and fees are often lower than that in the United States. He thinks that some of these features could possibly be brought to New Jersey.

“I come from the Canadian system and so I have familiarity with another system, which is quite different in some respects but may have some interesting features that can be brought to New Jersey,” said Mercer. “Then I came here where I stayed for ten years, and I’ve been in higher education administration for more than 30 years, so I guess experience would be one of the things that is an advantage I have.”