It has become a media truism that Pennsyvlania’s new governor sees New Jersey Governor Chris Christie as a role model.
That makes Gov. Christie’s reaction, and Gov. Corbett’s after that, to the Higher Ed Task Force report released the first week of January very interesting.
The Task Force, chaired by respected former governor Tom Kean, came forth with a whole series of recommendations. Some of them probably appeal to Gov. Christie’s brand of decentralization and reform. Others probably bely his policy of cutting state funding.
Start with this one:
While fully recognizing the State’s immediate budgetary concerns, we recommend that the State must, as soon as possible, provide greater financial support for the operating budgets of New Jersey’s colleges and universities (p. 16).
Operating support to New Jersey’s colleges and universities has been declining for 20 years (see Appendix K). The size of the cuts has increased alarmingly over the past five years. Between Fiscal Years 1991 and 2004, New Jersey decreased state and local support for general higher education operations per full-time equivalent (FTE) student about 5%. Between Fiscal Years 2004 and 2009, New Jersey experienced an 18.7% decline in appropriations per FTE student, exceeded only by Rhode Island and South Dakota (see Appendix L and Appendix M) (pg. 46).
If you look through the charts in the many appendices (the report runs 130+ pages), you will find New Jersey’s pattern for higher ed funding parallels that in Pennsylvania. In 1982 when PASSHE was formed, we received 67% of our operating budget from the state; for 2010-11, that figure is under 30%. In New Jersey, you find that all the senior universities received 76.3% of their operating budget from the state in 1990; in 2011, that figure is 46.6% (pp. 108-09).
And New Jersey has a blue ribbon task force decrying the lack of investment there: “After twenty years of declining State funding and increased tuition, the fortunes of citizens and our state hang in the balance. Student access to an affordable college education and the economic prosperity of our state are at stake” (p. 8).
The same worries are true of Pennsylvania.
Let’s hope Gov. Christie listens to the call of his task force and finds a way in these troubled times to turn the tide of underfunding the good of public higher education in New Jersey.
And let’s hope that, no matter what his model governor next door does, our new governor shows leadership and insight and harkens the call by prioritizing higher education in Pennsylvania so it can buttress the Commonwealth in growth and prosperity.