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Bill Would Require Secretary of Higher Education to Create Master Plan

TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senators Sandra Bolden Cunningham and Nellie Pou that would ensure the state is taking a strategic approach in developing our higher education priorities was approved today by the Senate Higher Education Committee.

“A strong and forward-thinking higher education plan is imperative for our long-term goals of a well-educated, well-trained workforce and a strong economy,” said Senator Cunningham, D-Hudson, Chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee. “Mapping out how we will provide post-secondary education to our citizens is at the heart of smart planning and preparation for growth of our higher education system and our state, yet this important function of the higher education secretary has not been fulfilled. We most prioritize this important planning process to create a higher education system that continues to grow as the 21st century develops.”

The bill, S-2165, would direct the Secretary of Higher Education to adopt a comprehensive master plan for higher education in New Jersey.

“The state invests more the $2 billion per year into our higher education system, yet we continue to do so without any strategic plan to create a pathway to smart growth,” said Senator Pou, D-Passaic and Bergen, Vice Chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee. “It is time that we have a serious plan for how our colleges and universities statewide will provide world-class education for years to come.”

The state last had a new master plan for higher education in 2003 with the “New Jersey’s Long-Range Plan for Higher Education: A Blueprint for Excellence,” which subsequently was updated in 2005 and a “progress report” released in 2007.

In an effort to “eliminate overlapping and duplication of functions,” in 2011 Governor Christie abolished the Commission on Higher Education, which was responsible for creating and maintaining the long-range plan for higher education in the state. All of the Commission’s responsibilities were moved to the Secretary of Higher Education during this dissolution. Even though the Secretary has the same statutory duty to provide long-range planning for education, the Secretary has not provided an updated plan.

The Senators note that much has changed since the last “progress report” to the state’s higher education master plan including a national recession that reduced state appropriations, increased enrollments and forced many of the state’s higher education institutions to raise tuition and fees and focus attention on online degree programs. Additionally, with the 2012 “New Jersey Medical and Health Science Education Restructuring Act” and the “Building Our Future Bond Act,” the state’s higher education landscape has changed dramatically.

Under the bill, the plan would need to be completed within six months of the bill’s effective date and every seven years thereafter.

The bill was approved by the Committee with the vote of 5-0.  It now heads to the full Senate for consideration.

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