By Troy Singleton
When Rutgers University’s Board of Governors voted last month to raise tuition 3.3 percent amid student outcry, the university’s vice president for budgeting, Nancy Winterbauer, said, “I know lots of them are struggling. But we’re a public institution where state funding is flat — it’s at the level it was in the ’90s — and we simply can’t provide the quality of an education that our students need without raising tuition.”
While this might not soothe the wounds of Rutgers students struggling to make ends meet, it’s clear that they’re not alone. Across our state and country, the cost of a college education has skyrocketed over the last few decades.
Whether the relationship between cuts in state aid to colleges and tuition increases is an uncanny coincidence or a direct correlation remains to be proven. However, we do know that state aid to New Jersey’s senior public colleges and universities has been cut by 15 percent over the last four years, while tuition at these schools has risen an average of 17.4 percent over the last five years.
I think everyone can agree that the cornerstone of a healthy economy and a vibrant future for our young people and our country as a whole is a college education. So how do we — like most other states — invest in higher education during this extraordinarily tight economy without overburdening taxpayers?
In today’s chase for finite resources, I believe we should reward schools that deliver a more efficient educational product without compromising the integrity of their academic mission.
That’s why I have joined with my colleague, Assemblyman Joe Cryan, in sponsoring A3856 to create a performance-based funding plan to allocate state aid to our colleges and universities.
Currently, our system of allocating funding to colleges is based mainly on enrollment numbers, which is not always the best indicator of an institution’s overall performance.
When we consider the rise in demand nationwide for a highly educated work force, coupled with continued budget cuts and stagnant graduation rates, it’s more important than ever that we invest in making sure our students follow through to degree completion.
The new funding plan would be designed to promote accountability and increase the satisfactory progression, matriculation and graduation of all students enrolled in our public institutions. Separate funding plans would be created for our county colleges and our four-year public institutions and, if appropriate, for our public research institutions.
Among the many performance measures that may be included in the funding plans are: degree and credit completion, graduation rates, student retention, student transfers, completion of credit hours, completion of degree programs, types of degrees awarded and reducing achievement gaps for low-income, minority and transfer students.
Rather than walloping schools with these changes all at once, the plans would be gradually phased in over five years, topping out with 25 percent of a school’s state aid being based on performance in the fifth and each successive year.
The bill also includes a stop-loss provision so that, when it’s fully implemented, no institution will experience a reduction of more than 2 percent in state operating aid compared to before the plan was implemented. This might not solve all of our problems, but it would certainly go a long way toward improving student outcomes and helping New Jersey graduates gain a decisive edge in the increasingly competitive global economy.
According to a report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, China is already outpacing the U.S. in percentage of college graduates, and India, which trails closely behind, is expected to overtake the U.S. by the end of this decade.
It’s clear that the time to step up our game is now.
There are many debates about whether the current millennial generation is being reared in a far more egalitarian manner than previous generations, which may, in turn, dull the competitive instincts that bred greatness in our forefathers.
By creating new incentives to succeed, everyone wins.