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Lesniak Statement On Committee Approval Of Higher Education Restructuring, Financing And Fiscal Management Measure

TRENTON – Senator Raymond J. Lesniak, D-Union, the prime sponsor of legislation would provide for improved structure, financing and fiscal management of higher education in New Jersey, issued the following statement today after the Senate Education Committee unanimously approved the bill:

“Today, the Senate Education Committee struck a chord for better colleges and improved accountability in the Garden State. This bill takes a comprehensive approach to ensuring better fiscal management, ensuring a greater voice for colleges in State government, and allowing for public-private partnerships to move our schools into the 21st Century.

“For too long, higher education has been a rudderless ship in New Jersey. There has been little oversight of college spending, little advocacy on behalf of colleges, and our State colleges and universities have not been able to tap their full economic investment potential.

“First and foremost, this bill would reinstate the Secretary of Higher Education as a cabinet level position in the Garden State. In 1994, the Department of Higher Education was abolished and college education was significantly deregulated in the State. This only resulted in colleges not being held accountable to the State, and without a strong advocate for additional assistance from the State. Restoring the cabinet level office for Higher Education will give schools a stronger voice in government policy and create a hierarchy for oversight of schools in New Jersey.

“The bill would also require schools to report more information regarding their finances, and open their books to the public to increase transparency. As taxpayer-funded entities, our schools should not be above public scrutiny. This bill remedies that, and guarantees that any spending incongruent with the public trust will not go hidden from public view.

“The bill would increase the bonding ceiling for capital improvement projects on our State’s college campuses, to help build a state of the art higher education experience in New Jersey. By making more money available for building on college campuses, we can also help generate economic activity in the State, create jobs, and boost our ailing construction industry.

“And finally, the bill would allow colleges to enter into agreements with private institutions, to the mutual benefit of both. In other states, schools regularly partner with the private sector to allow the business community to take advantage of the centralization of research occurring on college campuses, and allow students to take advantage of internships and job opportunities offered by private partners. New Jersey needs to follow the lead of the rest of the nation, and remove the regulatory blockades which are prohibiting public-private partnerships at our colleges and universities.

“This bill is not a cure-all for our economic woes, nor does it guarantee that there will be no fiscal malfeasance at our public institutions. However, it establishes a better higher education system, accountable to the taxpayers, accessible to the government, and central to our State’s future economic vitality. I thank the Education Committee for its consideration today, and look forward to continue the discussion on how to improve our higher education system as we move this bill through the legislative process.”

The bill now heads to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, before going to the full Senate for consideration.

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