The residents of New Jersey face some tough days ahead. Hurricane Sandy ripped through the state, destroying billions of dollars of private and public property. Gas rationing, hobbled mass transit and a subsequent snowstorm are just the tip of the iceberg for many residents, who are dealing with power outages and badly damaged or destroyed homes. However, on Election Day the Garden State’s voters turned out to overwhelmingly support the Building Our Future Bond Act, authorizing the state to borrow $750 million to invest in improving the state’s universities.
"The voters have demonstrated what families across New Jersey already know, that investing in higher education is possibly the single-most important thing that we can do to assure that our children have a future that is full of opportunity, promise and potential," says Rutgers President Robert Barchi. Rutgers is the state’s largest public university and will receive a major chunk of the funds to renovate existing classrooms and labs and build new facilities.
This bond act marks the first time in almost a quarter of a century that the state has gone on the hook to support college construction costs, and the initiative has had it’s share of critics. The conservative group, Americans for Prosperity, spearheaded the opposition.
"This is no time to borrow money to throw up more unnecessary buildings on college campuses," says the group’s state director, citing the massive damages caused by the recent hurricane. "The idea of borrowing all of this money to create temporary construction jobs is just a huge mistake.”
However, a formidable coalition of educational, labor, business and political leaders came together to support the measure, including Governor , a notorious fiscal conservative. The group organized a public information campaign focusing on the importance of developing public-private partnerships between educational institutions and industry, building a better-educated labor pool, which will help deter employers from taking jobs across state lines.
"In New Jersey, we have a knowledge economy, and we must provide the educational and research programs that will yield a rich relationship with business and industry,” says Susan A. Cole, president of Montclair State University.
A recent decision by the Roche Corporation to locate a major research center at New York ‘s Alexandria Center for Life Sciences, rather than New Jersey, sharply underscores the importance of building these relationships. In the announcement, a Roche executive acknowledged that several sites in both New York and New Jersey were considered, but Roche ultimately “...selected the Alexandria Center for Life Science for its unique location as well as the dynamic, vibrant, and thriving scientific atmosphere it offers.” New Jersey does not have this kind of hub.
The Roche decision to build across the Hudson highlights the need for new, state-of-the-art facilities. According to President Cole, New Jersey has fallen behind and “...not built capacity anywhere near the way we should in fields that are so important to our pharmaceutical and medical technology industries."
The final allocation of the funds has yet to be announced, but it is projected that New Jersey’s public research universities will receive $300 million and other public four-year colleges will split $247.5 million. Two-year community college will share approximately $150 million and $52.5 is set aside for private colleges. The funds from the bond act will be used to either build new or renovate classrooms and labs, and cannot be funneled into building projects that benefit sports programs or administration facilities.