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Speaker Oliver, Riley, Singleton & Coutinho Bill Authorizing $750 Million in Bonds to Help Fund Overdue Improvement Projects for NJ’s Colleges & Universities Gets Final Legislative OK

(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Speaker Sheila Y. Oliver, Assemblywoman Celeste Riley, Assemblyman Troy Singleton and Assemblyman Albert Coutinho authorizing $750 million in general obligation bonds to finance higher education capital projects to increase the academic competitiveness of New Jersey’s public and private colleges and universities received final legislative approval Thursday and now heads to the governor’s desk.

“New Jersey’s economic competitiveness and prosperity are directly related to the quality and capacity of its colleges and universities,” said Oliver (D-Essex). “Higher education is the foundation of this state’s economic well-being and is critical in the realization of individual success. The state has deferred investment in its system of higher education long enough. This is an investment not just of buildings, but on the students who will be attending and graduating from these institutions.”

The bill (A-3139) – entitled the “Building Our Future Bond Act” – would authorize the state to issue $750 million in state general obligation bonds to provide grants to New Jersey’s public independent institutions of higher education to construct and equip higher education facilities.

The bond issue would be put before New Jersey voters for approval in the next general election. There has not been a voter-approved higher education bond issue in New Jersey since 1988.

According to The Report of the Governor’s Task Force on Higher Education issued in December 2010, New Jersey’s workforce will require more baccalaureate degrees than the workforce of any other state except Massachusetts. According to the report, New Jersey leads the nation in the net outmigration of college-bound students, losing about 30,000 first-year students a year while admitting only about 4,000 students from other states; and the task force highlighted the urgent need to stem the tide of the brightest high school graduates leaving the state to attend college.

Demographic projections indicate that New Jersey will experience significant growth in its 18-24 year-old population, and the lack of adequate facilities has left institutions of higher education in the state entirely unprepared to accommodate the anticipated growth in student population.

“The convergence of economic competitiveness, increased workforce demands and demographic trends makes increasing the facilities capacity of institutions of higher education an issue that deserves immediate attention,” said Riley (D-Gloucester/Salem/Cumberland). “To stay ahead of the competition, we must dedicate the state resources necessary to ensure and advance the state’s economic growth and prosperity in this knowledge-based global economy.”

“The last time we invested in the infrastructure of our colleges and universities was 24 years ago. Meanwhile the student population in New Jersey is expected to grow,” said Singleton (D-Burlington). “It’s time that we make the necessary investments to equip our colleges and universities with the academic facilities needed to educate this expected increase in student body and ensure the educated workforce necessary to retain and attract business and industry to our state.”

“According to the Task Force, New Jersey’s colleges and universities identified significant facilities needs in 2005, a need that has grown over the past five years,” said Coutinho (D-Essex). “With little financial support from the state, many of our colleges and universities have had to rely on their own debt to finance facilities. If we want our colleges and universities to remain competitive, we need to invest. Investment in infrastructure is an investment in New Jersey’s future.”

The grants would be allocated in the following manner:

  • $300 million for public research universities;
  • $247.5 million for state colleges and universities;
  • $150 million for county colleges; and
  • $52.5 million for private institutions of higher education, except for private institutions with total endowments of more than $1 million.

    Under the bill, public research universities, state college and universities, county colleges and private institutions that receive these grants would be required to fund 25 percent of the project.

The Secretary of Higher Education will establish eligibility criteria for the grants. Under the bill, an institution of higher education must submit a long-range facilities plan that details the institution’s facilities needs and its plans to address those needs. The institution is required to demonstrate how the project advances the goals of the long-range facilities plan, increases the academic capacity of the institution, and provides a direct benefit to students. Projects that increase the academic capacity of the institutions, such as classrooms, laboratories, libraries, computer facilities, and other academic buildings are eligible. Projects involving dormitories, administrative buildings, athletic facilities or other revenue-producing facilities would not be eligible.

The secretary will prepare a list of eligible projects. Projects deemed construction-ready will receive priority. The secretary must submit a copy of the list of eligible projects along with the grant amount for each project to the presiding officers of each House of the Legislature. The list will be deemed approved unless the Legislature adopts a concurrent resolution stating otherwise.

The bill was approved 77-1 by the Assembly and 38-1 by the Senate.