New Jersey’s Higher Education Deserves New Jersey’s Vote of Confidence
In November, New Jersey’s citizens will have the opportunity to vote on a ballot question that would authorize $750 million in state borrowing for building projects that would allow the state’s colleges and universities to replace aging buildings.
It is imperative for policy-makers and citizens in our state to appreciate that our future competitiveness will depend on the vibrancy of our institutions of higher education. Based on my years in economic development, I extrapolated success factors that could help regions become economic centers of excellence:
- A concerted and focused initiative of the private, the non-governmental/non-profit, and the academic sectors with significant public sector support and involvement;
- Research universities act as magnets to attract industry by providing a wellspring of knowledge and talents for the stimulation and guidance of research by industrial firms;
- The initiative is maintained largely as a non-governmental effort;
- The effort is buttressed by a favorable business climate with rational tax, fiscal, incentive and regulatory policy;
- The initiative is constantly subjected to re-evaluation and re-invention; and,
- It is supported by a robust marketing campaign that will communicate the region’s commitments and achievements to interested parties.
These were the elements that were responsible for producing achievements that include Research Triangle Park and the New York Capital Region. These factors are also producing a “Research Triangle Park on the Hudson” in New York City.
This year, Mayor Michael Bloomberg helped forge a partnership between Cornell University and the Israel Institute of Technology (Technion) to create a world-class applied science and engineering campus in New York City. The Tech Campus on Roosevelt Island will combine the excellent academic legacies of these institutions, with Cornell's entrepreneurial culture and deep connection to the city's emerging tech sector and Technion's global leadership in commercialization and technology transfer. The goal of this partnership is to help transform New York City into a world hub of innovation and technology commercialization.
New Jersey remains one of the few states that have not adequately funded higher education capital projects in the past two decades. We have not voted on a higher education borrowing referendum since 1988, when we approved $350 million for the state’s colleges. It is extremely encouraging that the state’s major political, education, labor and industry groups as well as leaders of both parties are expressing outspoken support for the bond issues.
Several features of the bond issue make it an attractive investment for New Jersey’s citizens. Universities and colleges participating in bond proceeds would be required to match 25 percent of the funding for the projects and the funding would be restricted to academic and research facilities.
While the bond issue enjoys rare, almost universal bipartisan support, it could fall victim to voter apathy. According to a recent poll by Farleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind, 87 percent of registered voters have heard “little” or “nothing” about the bond. On the positive side, forty-eight percent of registered voters polled support the bond measure, while 34% oppose it and 18% are uncertain.
The new century has been one of many wasted opportunities for New Jersey. A decade of irresolute public policy, a deteriorating business climate and a deep recession resulted in the state finishing the first decade of the century with fewer jobs than when it started. Let it never be said by future generations in New Jersey that indifference made us fail to live up to the challenge of our time.