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Law Implements Many Recommendations from SCI Report

(TRENTON) – The structure, financing and fiscal management of New Jersey’s higher education system will be improved under a new law sponsored by Assembly members Patrick J. Diegnan, Joseph Cryan, Bonnie Watson Coleman, Caridad Rodriguez and Pamela Lampitt.

The law implements many recommendations contained an October 2007 report by the State Commission of Investigation (SCI) entitled “Vulnerable to Abuse: The Importance of Restoring Accountability, Transparency and Oversight to Public Higher Education Governance.” The report noted multiple instances where public money was “vulnerable to waste, abuse and violations of the public trust.”

The law – signed Jan. 11 – also includes numerous provisions to improve the capacity of the Commission on Higher Education to aid in the planning and development of higher education in New Jersey.

“The SCI report painted an unflattering picture of colleges and universities with little to no oversight and that had become bloated and inefficient,” said Diegnan (D-Middlesex) “The time has come for a radical change in the way the state provides for and manages its system of higher education. The state, its taxpayers and, most importantly, students deserve accountability and transparency.”

“New Jersey students who attend our public colleges and universities deserve the absolute best governance,” said Cryan (D-Union). “It’s the students who ultimately pay for the lack of oversight at our state schools.”

The law:

  • Establishes effective and efficient state oversight of public higher education;
  • Strengthens state college and university governing boards;
  • Implements Sarbanes-Oxley style standards to improve public higher education fiscal accountability; and
  • Enacts controls on higher education lobbying.

The law also provides for the creation of a Secretary of Higher Education, who will be appointed by the Governor with the advice and consent of the Senate and serve as executive director of the New Jersey Commission on Higher Education.

The law, among other things, requires the commission’s review and recommendation of a public institution of higher education’s plan to establish a branch campus.

It also requires public research universities and state colleges to provide information and training to their governing board members on legal and ethical responsibilities.

“State colleges and universities have been operating under a system of lax oversight and with the ability to spend tax dollars free of any real accountability,” said Watson Coleman (D-Mercer). “The state’s hands-off approach created a higher education system that wasn’t following any real cohesive or strategic path.”

“We need to turn the Commission on Higher Education into a real force with a real mandate to direct higher education policy,” said Rodriguez (D-Hudson).

“Students deserve to know exactly how each penny they are spending on their educations is being invested to benefit them and their classmates,” said Lampitt (D-Camden), the new Assembly Higher Education Committee chairwoman. “Too often over the past decade-and-a-half we learned after-the-fact that administrators abused the trust they were given. Those practices must stop.”

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