By Allie Ward
President Mordechai Rozanski joined presidents and representatives of 20 other New Jersey colleges and universities at a hearing Wednesday to challenge the ramifications of Gov. Chris Christie’s proposed budget cuts.
Overall, the president said he felt “encouraged” by the Assembly Budget Committee’s response.
“Both the Democrat and Republican legislators seemed to be aware of the negative impact of the cuts on students at private colleges and universities,” he said.
The hearing allowed the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities in New Jersey (AICUNJ) representatives, as well as heads of public and community colleges, to answer questions on the impact of the cuts on higher education.
“I know some of the questions are difficult, [but] they are not intended to offend,” said Louis Greenwald, chair of the committee. “They are intended to help us find answers to difficult, challenging times.”
The governor’s proposed budget outlines a $173 million funding cut for public and private colleges and universities — including an almost $2 million cut in operating costs at Rider. In addition, cuts would impact incoming freshmen seeking Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) grants, and freshmen at private institutions seeking Tuition Aid Grants (TAG).
Rozanski had the opportunity to tell members of the Assembly and Pamela Lampitt, chair of the Assembly Higher Education Committee, that Rider’s “neediest future students” would be negatively affected by the passage of the budget and may be prevented from attending college altogether.
The formal presenters representing private institutions at the hearing were Sister Rosemary Jeffries, president of Georgian Court University, and President Richard Levao of Bloomfield College.
“Our colleges have an impressive tradition in New Jersey,” said Jeffries, who also serves as president of the N.J. President’s Council. “Though there are severe fiscal constraints, we believe to not invest in higher education is to miss an opportunity. An investment in higher education is really an investment in the state.”
Levao’s school has the largest number of students who would be affected by cuts to TAG and EOF.
“There’s a mistaken impression that students of very modest means go to public schools and students of wealth go to private schools or independent schools,” he said. “That is not the case in New Jersey.”
Support from Assemblyman Joseph Malone, a senior Republican, was appreciated by many of the presidents and representatives. Malone cited the “catastrophic” loss in revenue caused by the economic strain on New Jersey, but admitted the Legislature has done a “horrific job of supporting higher education” over the last 10 years.
“I don’t know if there’s a simple solution this year,” Malone said. “We should all be ashamed of what we’ve done to the higher-ed community. You should not have to come and beg, every year, for your existence. Democrats and Republicans have an obligation to do a better job than we’ve done in the past.”
Also in attendance was a student representative from Rider, junior Amanda Matticks, outgoing SGA secretary, who is a TAG recipient, and other student representatives from area institutions. Rozanski stressed that, above all, it is they who will suffer from the passage of Christie’s budget.
“The most important thing is to protect the students,” he said.
The Assembly Budget Committee will convene again on Monday to hear from the public on this issue, and a rally is expected outside the State House. (See Budget, p. 1)
“I think students have to express their points of view,” Rozanski said. “The advocacy is important and can educate the Legislature to understand the unfair impact of these cuts.”