The New Jersey Office of Higher Education has appointed a state monitor at New Jersey City University.
As NJBIZ has reported, NJCU has been in the midst of a fiscal crisis, prompting a state comptroller investigation and report – initiated at the request of Gov. Phil Murphy – that found that the school’s precarious financial state was caused by a combination of declining enrollment, increasing university spending, and a misallocation of federal COVID-19 funds.
New Jersey Secretary of Higher Education Brian Bridges said that the Aug. 30 appointment of Henry Amoroso, who will focus was on steering the institution toward financial stability, was supported by the governor.
“We have a responsibility to protect the significant higher education investments made by students, their families, and the state,” said Bridges. “With the appointment of Mr. Amoroso, NJCU unquestionably gains a seasoned expert whose acumen and values will help realize positive transformation and future solvency for the university.”
“New Jersey is proud of the many options our state offers individuals seeking an affordable, high-quality postsecondary education and must work to ensure these institutions can continue to provide the first-rate education students deserve,” said Murphy. “The appointment of Henry Amoroso, a highly respected turnaround specialist, will help us safeguard our promise to New Jersey students and protect the public interest by promoting financial stability and accountability at New Jersey City University. Our students, their families, and the people of New Jersey deserve nothing less.”
Amoroso’s appointment marks the first such action under a new state law (Assembly Bill 4970/Senate Bill 3406), signed last month by the governor, that gives Bridges’ office the authority to appoint a monitor under certain circumstances as well as conduct audits of public institution’s finance and governance operations in an effort to ensure greater fiscal accountability and transparency at New Jersey higher education institutions.
“By taking this first step under the new statutory authority vested in my office, we become better fiscal stewards of the investment made in our institutions by thousands of students seeking access to an affordable, high-quality postsecondary education,” said Bridges.
Finding the right course
Amoroso currently serves as a tenured associate professor of legal studies at Seton Hall University’s Stillman School of Business – and is also a practicing attorney and strategic advisor to several government entities, businesses and nonprofits. As Murphy noted, he has decades of experience in successful transition and turnaround efforts, with service on almost two dozen boards and advisory committees as well as a business executive.
“I am deeply grateful to be entrusted with this role and to leverage my diverse organizational expertise to secure a stronger financial and operational footing for NJCU,” said Amoroso. “By repairing the financial harm caused by bad actors, we stand to restore confidence in the education offered and, more importantly, ensure the institution can fulfill its mission to provide high-quality education to its current students and remain a credit to the wider community.”
Under the statute and in this role, Amoroso will oversee all fiscal operations, budgeting and staffing at NJCU.
After six months, he is required to develop a fiscal accountability plan that details benchmarks the university must hit in addition to remedial actions it must take for capacity and fiscal controls to be restored. Bridges will also develop a transition plan, which if successfully executed at the institutional level would conclude the appointment.
“Secretary Bridges has made an outstanding choice in Mr. Amoroso and his credentials and experience will be invaluable in setting NJCU on a path to financial health and sustainability,” said Assemblywoman Mila Jasey, D-27th District, prime sponsor of the legislation that allowed for the appointment and the Assembly Higher Education Committee chair. “Furthermore, I am pleased by NJCU’s collaborative engagement in this endeavor, which demonstrates to its existing and prospective students that their needs and aspirations are high priority. Ultimately, today’s action is a reflection of our unwavering commitment to NJCU, its students, and the success of all New Jersey’s public colleges and universities.”
“Our community is grateful for the continued support and commitment we are receiving from the state to bring the university back to full strength,” said Andres Acebo, NJCU interim president. “As a public anchor university that the community has depended on for nearly a century, we look forward to working with Mr. Amoroso to continue to advance the collaborative efforts that have moved us from crisis to recovery.”
NJBIZ has extensively detailed the efforts of Acebo – who was appointed to this role in the wake of this financial crisis at just 37 years old – as he has worked to help right the ship through a number of tough budget cuts, rightsizing, initiatives, partnerships and more.
“Everyone knows where things went awry. And I appreciate the grace that’s been given, acknowledging what I’ve agreed to take on,” Acebo told NJBIZ in June. “And I think that that’s engendered trust and engagement. My own leadership team has embraced their own cuts themselves. This is being felt everywhere.”
“Strengthening and faithfully stewarding our unique mission and elevating our extraordinary community to greater heights propels us all forward,” Acebo said Wednesday.
Despite the adversity, Acebo has maintained that it is a privilege to be entrusted with leading this institution at this particular time in history – stressing that he is running toward something.
“I’d like to think that I would care and treat this with as much fidelity as I have by sense of personal integrity. But also, the fact that this is an institution that serves the community that shaped me,” Acebo told NJBIZ in June. “Literally, its graduates educated me, protected me, and nursed me. That my loved ones have crisscrossed this campus in pursuit of economic mobility. That responsibility has been humbling and, perhaps, what will prove to be one of the most significant privileges of my professional and personal life.”