Success stories abound of how New Jersey's institutions of higher education are developing coursework to sync up with the needs of its business sectors, yet the word isn't getting out to prospective students who are opting to instead go to out-of-state schools, according to a panel of experts.
“We do not talk positively about New Jersey,” said Jason Redd, director of government and regulatory affairs at law firm Gibbons PC and a former chairman of the Trenton school board. “I went to law school out West and everyone thought Rutgers was an Ivy League school. … We have got to appreciate what we’ve got before we expect people outside the state to do it.”
Redd’s observations came during an NJBIZ panel discussion on education Wednesday at The Imperia in Somerset. The forum was moderated by Louis Manzione, president of the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities in New Jersey.
Among the major themes was the continuing outmigration of New Jersey high school graduates to colleges and universities outside the state, difficulties in getting out-of-state grads to come here and how to counteract these trends.
“[Outmigration] is a problem,” Redd said. “For a long time outmigration was due to us New Jerseyians having an inferiority complex.”
Steven Sirot, president and CEO of College Benefits Research Group, works with students and families to plan for college. A Rutgers University graduate, he talked about how his alma mater received thousands more applications than normal when its football program was experiencing national success.
“There is no reason why we should not be as proud of our legacy and network as Penn State or Syracuse are,” Sirot said. “Families are worried about how they are going to afford college. We have great schools. When a student and family is making this decision, they should do it in a serious way.”
Another challenge has to do with internships and if colleges are sending the right students to employers, Sirot said. These relationships take time to develop and can become strained if a college counselor recommends a student who is not a good fit for a certain employer.
“In academia, they do what they do but too often are not listening to the business community,” Sirot said.
Educators are also fighting the long-held stigma against community colleges, while some are actually contributing to it.
Craig Westman, vice chancellor for enrollment management at Rutgers University-Camden, said grappling with the cost of higher education prevents many prospective students from enrolling.
Three years ago, Rutgers-Camden used its own data to discover that many lower-income students were applying to the school but not enrolling, Westman said. It was soon thereafter that Rutgers-Camden started a program called Bridging the Gap, in which it pays 100 percent of the tuition for students who come from families that earn less than $60,000 per year; 75 percent for students whose families earn $60,000 to $80,000; and 50 percent for those from families earning $80,000 to $100,000.
“It has been successful,” Westman said. “Outmigration is a problem in New Jersey. We see a lot of students who apply to us enroll [at other colleges]. … We ask ourselves what we can do better. It comes back to affordability by reducing loan debt. Fifty-seven percent of our students work to attend school.”
Samuel Conn, founder of NJEdge, a nonprofit technology services provider for leading education, research and health care organizations, said he encourages professors to use technology to teach.
While previously in academia, Conn said he urged professors to allow students to use iPhones in class as a digital tool to supplement their learning. He related that when a particular professor banned cellphones in his classroom, a student literally used his phone while in class to drop the professor’s class.
Adults older than the typical college age are returning to college to be retrained, making them the fastest-growing population of students.
“So many nontraditional students go back to graduate school,” Conn said. “They have a mortgage and three kids. They are trying to improve their ability to make more money.”
New Jersey has a rich history in technology, Conn said, and as such should be doing a greater share of its recruitment outside the state.
“One problem we have is New Jersey needs to get its technology mojo back,” he said. “Thomas Edison was here. We are at the apex of where innovation should be happening. We have a biopharma industry. NJEdge signed an agreement with the New Jersey School Boards Association. Higher education and K-12 need to start talking. How do we create pathways for students so when they graduate from high school they are already inbound to one of our great state institutions.”
Manzione noted that thousands of jobs are opening up each day in New Jersey due to baby boomers entering their retirement years. This, he said, is placing a great burden on the workforce.
Nevertheless, he said he sees New Jersey as being equipped to educate the next generation of workers.
“New Jersey is blessed with a strong education system,” Manzione said.