New Jersey’s Investment in Higher Ed Still Falling Short

State support for public colleges and universities is 21.3 percent lower than in 2008

It has been nearly a decade since the Great Recession hit, yet New Jersey’s spending on higher education remains well below pre-recession levels. While the Garden State likes to tout the fact that we have a high-quality education system that produces some of the best and strongest students and workers nationwide, it is becoming increasingly difficult for the average New Jerseyan to afford the cost of education.

From 2008 to 2017, New Jersey’s investment in higher education fell by $2,113 – or 21.3 percent – per student after adjusting for inflation, according to a new report by the D.C.-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. While we are not alone – 44 states spent less per student in 2017 than in 2008 – the cuts here have been deeper than average. 

As the state has pulled back on its investment in higher education, tuition has increased. Since 2008, the average tuition among New Jersey’s public, four-year colleges has increased $2,015 – or 17.5 percent – making it more difficult for low- and middle-income New Jerseyans to afford a college education. High tuition rates lead to more students graduating with dangerously high levels of debt, limiting their ability to move out on their own and start independent lives. In 2004, 57 percent of graduates from public, four-year institutions in New Jersey held debt, and the average amount of debt was $14,539. Ten years later in 2014, 69 percent of students held debt and the average amount was $28,345.

After years of decline, New Jersey finally reversed the trend in 2017 by spending $23 more on higher education per student than the previous year. This bump of 0.29 percent isn’t a significant increase whatsoever, but is better than the alternative of continuing to divest from this important area.

Recent reports from NJPP have shown the severity of this problem. When looking at the average of combined in-state tuition and fees among four-year public institutions, the state ranks 4th highest nationally. And New Jersey is number one nationwide for the share of millennials – 47 percent – who live in their parents’ home.

Ensuring that pursuing higher education and securing a college degree isn’t a guaranteed sentence to economic hardship is one of the most important things New Jersey lawmakers need to address. We all know that our state’s economic future is tied to our high-quality public colleges and universities. But those colleges and universities must be more affordable for striving students and their families – and lawmakers need to be doing more to make college more affordable and more accessible.