Panel Addresses the State of Budget at Roundtable

Photo by Giancarlo Sepulveda

On Feb. 16, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie outlined his proposed state budget for the 2017 fiscal year. While the governor did not spend much time on the topic of higher education, he indicated that the appropriations devoted to senior public institutions, community colleges and NJ STARS would remain the same as the 2016 fiscal year. However, a 4.6 percent increase to the tuition aid grant and a $20 million increase toward graduate medical education were proposed.

In response to the governor’s address, Student Trustee Josef Weikl moderated a discussion between Ramapo College President Peter Mercer, Trustee A.J. Sabath, Director of the New Jersey Association of State Colleges and Universities Dr. Michael Klein and Vice President of Administration and Finance Kirsten DaSilva, in front of student and faculty attendees.

“The College is likely to predict how much money the state will give to us, given the trends of the Christie administration thus far,” said Mercer in response to Weikl’s first question regarding how Ramapo College remains competitive with the trend of increasing tuition and fees. “In his address, Christie mentioned a steady hand approach towards appropriations, though I suspect when we get to look with that, there will be a few wrinkles with that statement, most likely with the fringe benefits.”

Under the proposed budget, the state will cover 23 percent of Ramapo College’s costs, which amounts to $14,953. To put that into perspective, out of the 11 senior public institutions in New Jersey, Ramapo College is covered second to last in state appropriations, with Rowan University and Rutgers University receiving $85,383 and $393,984, respectively.

Weikl then pointed out the lack of any quantitative funding formula in deciding how higher education appropriations are distributed among public institutions.

“I have been going to Trenton lately to advocate for our need for a state bond to raise enough money to renovate the library,” said DaSilva. “It’s in dire straits and needs to be refurbished, so we need to continue to push the state for funds to enhance and maintain our facilities while also affirming the great things our school possesses and has done for our students.”

Sabath, pulling from his lobbying experience, also noted that the formula in Trenton is based on seniority, which means that older institutions are supported more by the state then newer ones.

“The problem then becomes these older institutions fighting us to maintain their current per capita income from the state which puts us in conflict,” said Sabath. “That's why it’s been very important for us to raise awareness of this funding issue. While we have a long way to go, it’s better than how we were five years ago in terms of making a case.”

In the discussion's conclusion, Weiki mentioned that Christie only briefly discussed higher education in his address, causing him to raise a concern that higher education is not being prioritized enough.

To this, the panel members responded in agreement.

“Given the governor’s emphasis on past achievements regarding higher education in his address, I think it’s safe to imply that he essentially checked higher education off his political to-do list, in spite of the wrinkles and inequities that still need to be addressed,” said Klein.