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Lesniak-Whelan Higher Education Restructuring Bill Approved In Senate

TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senators Raymond J. Lesniak and Jim Whelan which would ensure accountability and transparency at public universities and State colleges was approved by the Senate today by a vote of 36-0.

“Our State colleges and public universities are among the best in the entire country, but a lack of cost controls and general accountability has made higher education more and more unaffordable in the Garden State. By establishing greater State oversight of public college spending, and requiring thorough and complete spending audits at each of these institutions, we will be better able to maintain our world-class higher education system and keep tuition rates reasonable,” said Senator Lesniak, D-Union.

“We cannot afford to lose our best and brightest students to other states, but the lack of an affordable education in New Jersey has sped up the ‘brain drain’ and put our State at an economic disadvantage,” said Senator Whelan, D-Atlantic. “If we’re gong to get tuition rates under control, we need the sort of public scrutiny and spending oversight at our State colleges that we demand from other public entities and government agencies.”

The bill, S-1609, would make various changes to the statutes governing higher education in New Jersey. The bill would implement a number of recommendations from the State Commission of Investigation (SCI) to make spending at State colleges and public universities more transparent and accountable. The bill would create a cabinet level position of Secretary of Higher Education to review spending and act as a Statewide advocate for higher education; would require the governing board of each college to establish an auditing committee to oversee internal and outside financial audits and investigate claims of impropriety. The bill would also require the president and chief financial officer of a State college to certify the accuracy of financial statements and would require that whistleblower protections be put into place for employees attempting to expose wrongdoing at higher education institutions throughout the State.

“In this tech-based economy, many of our State’s young adults have found that a college education is necessary to achieve a good, high-paying job,” said Senator Whelan. “However, many of our State’s best students cannot afford to continue their education beyond high school, or if they can, they go out of State to get more bang for their buck. While the reforms in this bill will make higher education more affordable, we also have to renew State financial support for our public colleges and universities as an investment in New Jersey’s future.”

“As New Jersey adopts new policies to make our State economically competitive during the current global financial crisis, we must recognize that one of our best attractions to encourage businesses to locate here is an educated, highly-trained workforce,” said Senator Lesniak. “Affordable higher education is essential to provide the skills and training New Jerseyans will need to compete for jobs during a recession economy. By creating enhanced oversight of college spending, and making sure public dollars are spent wisely at our public colleges, we can help New Jersey overcome the effects of the national recession and reverse years of economic decline.”

The bill now heads to the Assembly for consideration.

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