SGA represent at annual Higher Education Symposium

Photo courtesy of Jessica Ryan, Ramapo College

On Thursday, Oct. 19, the New Jersey Association of State Colleges and Universities, or NJASCU, hosted their annual Higher Education Symposium at the Trenton War Memorial. Ramapo’s Student Government Association sent six student representatives to the symposium, along with President Peter Mercer, Board of Trustees Chair William Dator and Chief of Staff to the President/Board of Trustees Liaison Brittany Goldstein.

The purpose of this annual event is to instigate discussions about significant issues in the world of higher education, such as increasing the number of New Jersey residents who pursue baccalaureate education in state, equal opportunity, improving diversity on college campuses, containing costs and ensuring all New Jersey residents have access to affordable, quality education. The event is held in honor of former NJASCU staff member Paul Shelley, who served for over 25 years as the association’s communications director. 

“It’s an idea we had to honor a fellow faculty member Paul Shelley,” said NJASCU Executive Director Michael Klein. “He loved policy and was a real expert about getting the word out about public education and the real important role public colleges and universities play in New Jersey. It’s important for us to have events like this, where college administrators can meet with business leaders and public officials to talk about the issues facing higher education in New Jersey.”

The event kicked off with some inspiring words from the Honorable James Florio, former New Jersey governor and advocate for higher education. During his time as governor, Florio created the New Jersey Business-Higher Education forum to develop strategies for making the higher education system more responsive to the needs of businesses and improving the education of a skilled workforce. On Thursday, he spoke to college administrators and public officials about the importance of the Bachelor’s degree in today’s society, and the vitality of progress and change in the education sector.

“We need to have stronger advocacy for higher education,” said Florio. “In the past 10 years the state has gone from funding 70 percent to 20 percent of higher education. It’s an investment that yields great returns.”

According to the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association, in New Jersey in 2006 approximately $9,497 were allocated per full-time equivalent student, and in 2016 this number dropped to $6,982 allocated per full-time equivalent student, an approximate 25 percent decrease in funding for higher education.

The symposium featured two main panels where college administrators, business leaders and public officials discussed various issues facing the higher education community today. The first panel, “The Importance of a Bachelor’s Degree for New Jersey’s Economy,” featured panelists from the New Jersey Assembly, Montclair State University, Stockton University, William Paterson University, Kean University and the New Jersey Business and Industry Association.

In today’s highly competitive economic climate, a baccalaureate education has become crucial to the success of students and businesses alike. Panelists discussed methods for improved diversity and inclusion on campuses and increasing opportunities for minorities in higher education.

“Countries, states, individuals that have higher secondary education levels also have lower crime levels, lower healthcare costs,” said Stockton University President Harvey Kesselman. “We have a moral obligation and a fiduciary obligation to provide opportunities to the underrepresented population for higher education.”

The second panel of the morning was called “Institutional Strategies to Contain Costs, Emphasizing Public-Private Partnerships” and featured panelists from the New Jersey Assembly and more college administrators, among which was Ramapo College’s very own President Peter Mercer.

The panelists discussed methods of lowering and containing costs for program expansion and infrastructure development on college campuses. New Jersey Senate Minority Leader Thomas H. Kean, Jr. was in attendance, as well as New Jersey Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald. Both agreed that expanding the horizons of higher education in New Jersey will be crucial for the state’s future success.

“I’m excited about the future,” said Assemblyman Louis Greenwald, “and when I look at some of the successes we’ve had with urban development, and success stories we’ve had like Camden and Hoboken, our institutions of higher educations have been the backbone of our re-gentrification in those communities.”

Speakers in this panel emphasized the importance of public–private partnerships, which are cooperative arrangements between two or more public and private sectors, typically of a long-term nature. Ramapo College was acknowledged as a leading example of a college which has taken advantage of private-public partnerships for entering into partnership with National Energy Partners, LLC in 2013.

The agreement calls for the private parties to construct and operate a photovoltaic system on campus that includes solar carport canopies in the main parking fields, ground-mounted solar panels on the grass strip near the south entrance of the campus and solar panels on the roofs of the Phase I Academic Building, Mackin Hall, Bischoff Hall and the Bill Bradley Center. Completion of the $20 million solar project is anticipated to be in winter 2018.

Tuition and fees at Ramapo College have increased by approximately 1.9 percent in the past five years, although this is in a large part due to the decrease in state fund appropriation for higher education.

“If you looked at [Ramapo’s] tuition and fee increases in the last five years and you look at the costs and accommodation of needs for our students, cost containment is a kind of double edged sword,” Mercer said.

NJASCU is a leading voice for public higher education in New Jersey. Working in cooperation with students, faculty and campus administrators, NJASCU plays an active role in developing and proposing state higher education policy to better serve New Jersey’s citizens.

As Chief Executive Director Michael Klein explained, “The important upshot of everything we do is to ensure that New Jersey residents have access to a truly affordable, amazing college education.”