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Senators Nellie Pou, D-Passaic and Bergen, and Sandra Bolden Cunningham, D-Hudson, speak to a visitor in the Senate chambers before the start of the Reorganization ceremony.

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.

“A forward-thinking higher education plan is imperative and long overdue to drive our statewide goals of a well-educated, well-trained workforce and strong economy,” said Senator Cunningham, D-Hudson, Chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee. “We must define ambitious objectives for our post-secondary education system, draft a roadmap of achievable pathways to fulfill those objectives, and, perhaps more importantly, be committed to revisit the plan regularly to ensure it is current with our citizens’ growing needs.”

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 every year into our higher education system, and it is our duty to ensure that our colleges and universities are up to par with the ever-changing needs and challenges of our world today,” said Senator Pou, D-Passaic and Bergen, Vice Chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee. ”With a strategic vision, our college and universities can better produce graduates who can thrive in today’s competitive market.”

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 Senate with a vote of 39-0.  It now heads to the Assembly for consideration.

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