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Senator Sandra Cunningham listens to testimony during the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee hearing.

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 signed into law today.

“It is imperative that we create a forward-thinking higher education plan that will meet our goal to strengthen our economy and a well-educated and well-trained workforce will help us get there,” 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 residents’ growing needs.”

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

“The state invests more than $2 billion every year into our higher education system, and it is our responsibility 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. “By implementing a strategic approach and a comprehensive education plan, we will better ensure college and university graduates are better equipped to compete in today’s 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 law, the plan will 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 passed the Assembly by a vote of 65-7. The law will take effect immediately.

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