TRENTON – Senate Budget & Appropriations Committee Chairman Paul Sarlo today welcomed words from former Gov. Thomas Kean calling for the installation of a new Secretary of Higher Education to serve as the administration’s cabinet-level bridge to the state’s colleges and universities.
The former governor was chairman of the Task Force on Higher Education created last year by Governor Christie. The task force released its findings on January 4, 2011. Its top recommendation included the restructuring of the state’s higher education mechanisms, with a new Secretary of Higher Education to be the focal point for oversight. At a budget committee hearing today focused on the Task Force’s report, Gov. Kean reiterated the need for a strong central leader for the state’s higher education community.
Sarlo noted that legislation creating the post was signed into law by former Gov. Corzine on Jan 18, 2010 – with a statutory deadline of mid-July 2010 for filling the position – but that no nomination has yet been made by the Christie administration.
“Few people in New Jersey know as much about the strengths and weaknesses of our higher education system as Gov. Kean, and hopefully his words will spur real action from the current administration to implement this task force recommendation,” said Sarlo (D-Bergen). “New Jersey’s colleges and universities are now going on 15 months with no seat at the governor’s cabinet and no central voice in the governor’s ear. That has got to change, and it should change before the next academic year begins.”
Sarlo also thanked Gov. Kean for his support for the concept of placing before the voters a referendum for a statewide bond issue to raise money for capital projects at the state’s public higher education institutions. Sarlo noted that it has been more than 20 years since a similar bond issue, and that during the interim the ability of the state’s public colleges and universities to provide for the growing number of New Jersey students who wish to remain in-state has consistently decreased – New Jersey currently leads the nation in the number of students who leave their home state to pursue their degrees.
“Gov. Kean made it clear that without focused investment we will continue to see many of our best and brightest students seek their degrees elsewhere,” said Sarlo. “We need to plug the hole in the state’s brain drain, and that can only be done by building the facilities our schools need to provide students the services they need.”
Finally, Sarlo noted the Task Force’s recommendation for strengthening collaboration between the state’s higher education community and the business community, especially in the creation of joint research projects that could provide good future employment opportunities for New Jersey students, especially in the pharmaceutical and life sciences fields. Sarlo noted that the Legislature passed legislation that would implement such a partnership (S2398), but it was vetoed by Gov. Christie.
“Gov. Kean and his task force have put forward strong proposals for moving higher education forward,” said Sarlo. “Hopefully, Gov. Christie and his administration will move more expeditiously in putting them into effect. And, if the governor is still accepting names to be the first Secretary of Higher Education, he probably couldn’t do much better than Gov. Kean.”