Rutgers students, staff: Higher Ed cuts will devastate us

New Jersey Newsroom

Governor Corzine’s $31.8 million proposed cut to the state’s public higher education system will have devastating effects on students and New Jersey, said Rutgers students, staff, and leaders from the Better Choices Budget Campaign at a rally Friday. The group gathered at the student organized “Tent State University” to call on Corzine to scrap his cut to state colleges and universities, which amounts to a 5% reduction to higher education institutions (other than the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey).

“For years, our state leaders have drained support for our public colleges and universities— with cuts seven out of the last ten years, it’s been death by a million cuts. The question in Trenton hasn’t been: ‘How can we invest in our future?’ Instead, our elected leaders have asked: ‘What can we cut?’,” said AJ Schneeberg, President of the Rutgers Labor Association. “Too many students are like me— having to give up their educational choices because of higher tuition costs or student debt,” Schneeberg cannot attend graduate school next year because of his $50,000 in student debt.

Since 1990, state aid has shrunk from an average 49% of each state college or university’s budget to just 20%, analysis of state budgets by Anastasia Mann, policy analyst from New Jersey Policy Perspective, showed. The state’s funding for its nine state colleges and universities is now the same in dollars as in FY 1999—not adjusted for inflation, according to the New Jersey Association of State Colleges and Universities —yet, there are currently 20,000 more students being served annually.

The average four-year public college or university student’s tuition and fees have grown from $2,600 to over $10,000 since 1990, Mann’s analysis also showed. The average Rutgers student’s tuition and fees have increased from $3,860 to $11,540.

Richard L. McCormick, President of Rutgers, explained in an open letter to the school April 15th that their loss of over $15 million could mean staff layoffs and reductions in classes and programs. McCormick reported that state funding for Rutgers has now been reduced to 1997 levels.
“Our higher education system is a leaking ship, with more students leaving New Jersey than any other state,” said Dr. Mann. “This year’s graduating high school class is the largest on record- but we will lose too many of those students because our colleges and universities do not have the resources to meet rising demand.”

Every year, 35,000 students head elsewhere for their college education—and with only 6,000 out of state students a year, New Jersey loses down 29,000 educated adults to contribute to the state’s economic rebound, according to the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems. New Jersey has the lowest capacity in its four year public higher education system per high school graduate of any state in the country, the New Jersey Association of State Colleges and Universities reported.

“In these tough times, public education should be a beacon for students, but instead, our schools don’t have the resources to serve our students— our greatest resource— and keep them here,” said Eva Bonime, Executive Director of the Better Choice Budget Campaign. “Governor Corzine needs to consider New Jersey’s future and not place the burden of this budget on the shoulders of students, when this pain can be avoided if the state’s wealthiest residents pitch in just a little more.”

The Better Choices Budget Campaign’s proposed budget plan would generate $517 million in new revenue, sufficient to prevent these cuts and increase investment in higher education.
The proposal calls for adjusting the state income tax to more closely reflect New Jerseyans ability to pay. In addition to the Governor’s proposed new rate of 10.22% on income above $500,000, creating a new 8.5% bracket for people making between $300,000 and $500,000 a year—currently taxed at 6.37%– could generate almost $300 million annually.

The proposal would raise an additional $80 million by curbing business tax breaks and loopholes— specifically by repealing the sunsetting provisions for the 4% surcharge on corporate business tax liabilities and doubling the rate to 8%— and another $140 million by raising registration fees for gas guzzling cars, vans, and SUVs that weigh over 5,000 lbs.