New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy and New Jersey Secretary of Higher Education Zakiya Smith Ellis announced a $20 million investment in higher education in the release Tuesday of “Where Opportunity Meets Innovation: A Student-Centered Vision for New Jersey Higher Education.”
Murphy and Smith Ellis unveiled the plan at Rutgers University-Newark, surrounded by students, state officials and other higher education stakeholders.
Smith Ellis said the plan’s central goal is to have 65 percent of New Jersey residents graduate from college by 2025. She wants every New Jerseyan to have the opportunity to obtain a high-quality credential that prepares them for life after college.
They outlined a student bill of rights that organizes these rights into five main objectives for the state. They are to expose students to postsecondary pathways through enhanced partnerships and access to fee-free college-preparatory programs; to ensure college access and affordability by examining new partnerships between the state and institutions to meaningfully reduce higher education costs for students and their families; to build support systems necessary to make sure students graduate from college; to ensure students feel safe, supported and included in their chosen learning environments; and to cultivate research, innovation and talent to deepen and recapture New Jersey as a leader in the innovation economy and effectively prepare students for success after college.
Rutgers University student John Anthony Arroyo said programs like the Educational Opportunity Fund allowed him to attend college at Rutgers, rather than “become another statistic.” Arroyo said he avoided joining a gang as a family member chose to do.
“Now I know I can achieve my goal of becoming a financial advisor,” Arroyo said.
Murphy credited Arroyo as an example that supports Murphy’s wish to help New Jersey natives stay in New Jersey to attend college.
“He is going to come out with two degrees and this guy is going to slay it,” Murphy said. “College affordability is a big mantra of ours. We put more money into [Tuition Assistance Grants.] This plan is backed up in our budget by $20 million.”
New Jersey Business & Industry Association President and Chief Executive Officer Michele Siekerka attended the news conference and issued the following statement about the state higher education plan.
“New Jersey needs a strategic plan for post-secondary education, and today marks a milestone in setting one,” Siekerka said. “NJBIA greatly appreciates the work of the Office of the Secretary of Higher Education and Gov. Murphy to design a long-term, appropriately funded higher education plan designed to keep and attract millennials in state and provide a more effective path to the workforce.
“In particular, the plan’s call for infusing more in-demand skills into the curriculum of all students at an earlier stage in their educational path falls directly in line with one of our recommendations in the NJBIA Postsecondary Education Task Force report,” Siekerka said. “Many employers relate to us that the next generation workforce lacks technical skills and employability skills such as problem solving, teamwork and self-direction. Skill-building through enhanced capacity at both our K-12 and Career and Technical Education programs, as well as broadened opportunities for experiential learning across the educational spectrum, is a big step in the right direction.”
“We stand ready to work with the Governor and Secretary of Higher Education to attract and retain the next generation workforce in a manner that recognizes the realities of the costs of post-secondary education while not putting any new burden on New Jersey taxpayers.”
Drew University President MaryAnn Baenninger applauded Murphy and Smith Ellis for their higher education state plan.
“It represents a collective push to increase diversity and access to post-secondary education and encourage entrepreneurship and innovation on college campuses,” Baenninger told NJBIZ in a statement. “It recognizes the critical role that independent colleges and universities play in New Jersey’s culture and economy.”
“Drew emphasizes several tenets of the plan,” Baenninger said. “We made Drew more affordable by lowering our tuition by 20 percent; we place a premium on incorporating real-world, hands-on learning through Launch, our groundbreaking approach to higher education that syncs career planning, rigorous academics and powerful community; and we set a high bar for completion rates (94 percent of Drew students graduate in four years or less) and diversity and inclusion (Drew is consistently ranked in the top 10 nationally in race/class interaction and the top 20 in LGBTQ environment).”
New Jersey Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tom Bracken welcomes the creation of the state’s task force on New Jersey’s plan for higher education.
“The task force’s objectives include something the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce has long been seeking – a stronger partnership between New Jersey’s business community and our state’s institutions for higher learning,” Bracken said.
“This is critical because a strong relationship will pave the road for colleges and universities to ensure that students are graduating with the skills necessary to be the strong job candidates that employers are seeking,” Bracken told NJBIZ in a statement. “Solid job candidates also will reinforce New Jersey’s talented workforce, a competitive advantage in our state’s efforts to persuade companies to relocate and expand in the Garden State.”