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Whelan Statement On Higher Education Restructuring Bill Approved In Senate Education Committee

TRENTON – Senator Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, and a sponsor of legislation to provide for the improved structure, financing and fiscal management of higher education in New Jersey, issued the following statement today on the bill’s unanimous approval in the Senate Education Committee:

“While today’s bill approval is a great step forward in giving our State colleges the tools they need to educate young minds, it would be an understatement to say I’m disappointed with the Assembly amendments regulating public-private partnerships.

“This bill, in its current form, would expand the opportunities available to institutions of higher education to work with the business community. But I think we’re missing a golden opportunity to go further, and ensure long-lasting, mutually beneficial partnerships become a standard tool for public colleges in the State.

“New Jersey is number one in the nation in the percentage of students we lose to out-of-State colleges. This ‘brain drain’ is a symptom of our lack of college capacity, and lack of opportunities for our best and brightest to parlay academic success into private employment. Our college-age students are flocking to schools where they can work on challenging coursework alongside the premier private researchers in the nation, and hopefully, find high-paying jobs post-graduation.

“The evidence of the ‘brain drain’ is particularly acute in South Jersey, because all colleges south of I-195 in this State are publicly-funded. Public colleges and universities must be held accountable for how they spend taxpayers’ money. But at the same time, we can’t impose over-reaching transparency requirements on private-industry business partners, who would just be scared away by stringent reporting standards.

“There’s a fine line between imposing necessary and appropriate public accountability and transparency, and forcing private business partners to disclose their assets in a public forum. We’re not talking about taxpayer dollars, but private capital, raised for the benefit of shareholders, not the public.

“We want public colleges and private-industry partners to work together, for the betterment of both. But hampering private companies with public disclosure requirements would make some think twice before entering into good-faith public-private partnerships.

“I will continue the dialogue, along with Senator Lesniak, between all the stakeholders for this bill, so that we can push true, lasting public-private partnerships between State-funded colleges and universities and the business community. If we need to revisit this area in subsequent pieces of legislation, I would gladly agree to sign on as a bill sponsor of those bills. But rather than seeing this bill as an end-point for public-private partnerships between public colleges and the private sector, I recognize that this is only the beginning to fostering true cooperation between institutions of higher education and willing private business partners.”

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

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