Memo to NJ High Schoolers: Get Out of State!

March 24, 2008

Football, si, education, no! That is the emphatic message out of the Corzine administration to New Jersey high school students.

Money for Rutgers football is abundant — its annual budget has ballooned to almost $16 million (the head coach salary’s alone is about $1.8 million). The grievous injury to this profound insult to scholarship at the university was the Rutgers Board of Governor’s approval of a $100+ million stadium expansion plan, despite an avalanche of facts and logic that showed the plan was reckless and cockamamie.

But, for education and scholarship, New Jersey funding for higher education is dropping fast.

Case in point: Budget cuts expected to be approved will slash a paltry scholarship program for top New Jersey high schoolers who elect to attend a community college. The current scenario is to save a whopping $2.5 million by making students in families with incomes over $100,000 ineligible. Granted, $100,000 sounds like big dough but this is one of the country’s richest states — almost all two income state employee families, for instance, earn well over $100,000. And grinding glass in this wound is that the $2.5 million is a bagatelle in the context of New Jersey’s bloated $33 billion budget — but the money ripped out of the hands of these students and their families just might make a big difference.

What’s not to expect, however. The 2006 New Jersey budget cut funding for the state’s Outstanding Scholars program, which rewarded the very best high schoolers with scholarships for choosing to attend a university in state. Maximum award was $7500; peak year funding saw $14 million go to these students. Every penny was slashed out of the 2006 budget and none has been restored.

Of course there’s also the wholesale cutting of higher education in the new draft state budget. About $78 million was slashed by Gov. Corzine, with every public college and university taking a hit. Rutgers, the school with money to burn on football, is suffering a $38 million cut and that means less money for education (fewer classes, fewer teachers, no money to maintain the campuses).

Gov. Corzine, meantime, is so gungho football he has personally vowed to help raise a $30 million donation to fund a sliver of the stadium expansion. He also promised to pony up $1 million of his own money — in stark contrast to his determination to slash funding for academic scholarships.

High schoolers: what part of this message from Trenton aren’t you getting? Unless your dream is to paint your body red, drink beer until you are comatose, and yell obscenities at opposing teams on football game days, just get out of town for your higher education.

If you are deciding right now about where you will go to college in September, take heed. Funding for New Jersey higher education will only worsen. The New Jersey budget crisis will only deepen next year and the year after. This is a longterm structural imbalance (NJ owes too much money on too little income). There is no financial magic wand that, waved by Trenton, will turn things right in the state’s colleges. Read these words carefully: get out of state and don’t look back.