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Codey, Roberts Announce Legislative Task Force To Consider University Merger

Focus Will Be Creating Top-Notch Research School to Drive NJ Economy

TRENTON – Senate President Richard J. Codey and Assembly Speaker Joseph J. Roberts, Jr. announced today the formation of the Legislative Task Force on Higher Education and the Economy, to examine a possible merger of New Jersey’s research universities into a top-tier school that would encourage public and private investment in New Jersey’s technology and research business sectors.

“Consolidating New Jersey’s already well-regarded research schools into a national leader in technology and research would be a huge win for the State,” said Senate President Codey, D-Essex. “It would help us leverage more federal and private-sector donations to expand our research potential, and would draw the best and the brightest to the Garden State to pursue an education. It’s something we should seriously explore, to position New Jersey to become the East Coast version of Silicon Valley, and a model for research and technology well into the future.”

“Good ideas like a merger of New Jersey research universities deserve to be aggressively examined and thoroughly pursued,” said Roberts, D-Camden. “This proposal would pay significant dividends for New Jersey residents if it improves the training of health care professionals and the delivery of medical services in the state.”

The Task Force would be charged with looking at the merger and reorganization proposals outlined in the 2003 report from the New Jersey Commission on Health Sciences, Education and Training, commonly referred to as the “Vagelos Report” in recognition of Commission chair Roy P. Vagelos.

The Task Force will rely on the framework proposed in the “Vagelos Report” as its primary, but not exclusive, basis to make recommendations to improve and expand the capacity and capabilities of New Jersey’s research universities.

The Task Force would be required to propose a detailed timeline and strategy for implementing any of its recommendations, presenting its findings no later than nine months following an organizational meeting.

“Now, more than ever, we need to take steps to strengthen the image of our state’s research universities,” said Roberts. “As our state’s health care industry and technological base face increasing competition from other states and nations, we need to respond in kind by doing all that we can to strengthen our research universities and fortify their position in the delivery of quality health care services for our citizens.”

According to the two presiding officers, the effort to enhance New Jersey’s higher education system — with a focus towards graduate programs and research universities — is intended to spur greater economic involvement of private partners and greater investment from the federal government. Reports rank New Jersey 21st in the nation in federal funding for its colleges, most of which is designated for scientific and technological research. At the same time, New Jersey is ranked 5th in the nation for per-student government spending for higher education in 2005.

“New Jersey is already making an investment in our future, but without more support from the federal government and private investors, we cannot realize our full potential,” said Senate President Codey. “We need to push the envelope with our universities, to maintain our spot at the top of the pack in terms of bio-tech, healthcare research, pharmaceuticals and technology. A greater infusion of federal and private dollars will allow us to keep pace with an ever-changing researched-based economy, and provide us with some great opportunities to expand our own economy.”

The legislative leaders said that they would announce the Task Force members shortly.