Bills Call For Higher Ed Bond Referendum, Public-Private Partnerships
TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senate President Steve Sweeney that would allow New Jersey’s institutions of higher learning to invest in long range planning and capital improvements and help establish public-private partnerships has cleared the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.
The first bill, S2500, would establish a “Building Our Future Bond Act,” and authorize the issuance of state bonds totaling at least $750 million. The bonds would provide grants to New Jersey’s public and private institutions of higher education for capital improvement projects.
“New Jersey has continued to underfund its institutions of higher learning and we have done so at our own peril. There is no question that our state’s ability to compete in the job market and prosper in the national and global economy is linked to the quality of our colleges and universities. The bond will infuse much needed funds that in turn will benefit all New Jerseyans,” said Sweeney (D – Gloucester, Salem, Cumberland).
The $750 million would be allocated as grants for the costs of projects: $300 million would go towards the state’s public research universities; $247.5 million would go towards the nine state colleges and universities; $150 million would go towards county colleges; and, $52.5 million would go towards independent institutions of higher education, excluding any institution with a total endowment exceeding $1 billion.
The bond, which would be up for voter approval this November, would be for projects such as: classrooms, laboratories, libraries, computer facilities, and other academic buildings. Dormitories, administrative buildings, athletic facilities or other revenue-producing facilities would not be eligible projects under the bill.
New Jersey ranks eighth among states in the percentage of high school graduates that go directly from high school to college, and it ranks fifth in the percentage of its population with baccalaureate degrees or higher. But New Jersey also has the sixth highest outmigration rate of baccalaureate-seeking students in the nation. The net migration – the difference between the number of students leaving the state and the number entering to attend college – is the highest in the nation.
The second bill, S2501, would amend current law to expand the options available between the state’s public institutions of higher learning and the private sector. Under the bill, a state or county college could enter into a public-private partnership that would utilize revenue from already existing buildings, like dormitories, to build academic facilities. Currently, the law does not allow that. Moreover, the bill would authorize the Secretary of Higher Education to approve the expenditure of current existing state funding programs. This change would help would free up approximately $540 million in funding. When coupled with S2500, Senate President Sweeney’s legislation would invest nearly $1.3 billion into New Jersey’s institutions of higher learning.
“We can make all the investments we want, but if there are not enough seats at our colleges and universities for students to fill, it will be a fruitless exercise,” said Sweeney. “By amending current law, we are going to free up hundreds of millions of dollars that can be used to build up and expand New Jersey’s institutions of higher learning. This will allow us to not only keep our best and brightest right here, but also draw in students from across the country and the world.”
Both bills now head to the Senate floor.