Northwest New Jersey lawmakers call on Murphy and Dems to restore $20 million to community colleges

Northwest New Jersey lawmakers call on Murphy and Dems to restore $20 million to community colleges

Senator Parker Space

TRENTON, N.J. – While touting increases in education funding, Gov. Phil Murphy and his administration have been notably silent on the $20 million cut to community colleges in the state, say Sen. Parker Space, Assemblyman Michael Inganamort and Assemblywoman Dawn Fantasia. The Northwest New Jersey lawmakers are calling on the administration to reverse the cut and start fairly funding the county college sector to prevent potential tuition increases on students and negative impacts on workforce development.

“New Jersey simply cannot afford to continually underfund community colleges. They play a vital role in our state’s workforce development efforts and provide affordable access to a diverse body of students who have a desire to earn a degree or certificate, including some who thought they’d never be able to get into college or have their unique educational needs met in a higher education setting,” Space said. “The astounding lack of investment in our community colleges by the state is shortsighted and hurts educational opportunities.”

Assemblyman Michael Inganamort

According to Murphy’s budget documents released this week, he plans to cut $20 million from the operating support for the state’s 18 community colleges, bringing the funding level down to FY23. The $20 million increase in operating aid last year represented the first significant state investment for community colleges in more than a decade.

“We are very concerned about what this cut means for Sussex County Community College, the County College of Morris, and Warren County Community College, because they all drive partnerships with employers, county governments and high schools to create career pipelines in this region. From nursing to manufacturing and everything in between, there is a great need for specially trained residents with the skills and education to fill in-demand jobs and they are coming from our county colleges,” Inganamort said. “The governor’s claim of significant investment in New Jersey’s county colleges is simply false. New Jersey has one the worst state-funded county college systems in the country, even before this cut. It’s time for the state to reverse course.”

Aaron Fichtner, president of the New Jersey Council of County Colleges, said in a statement that the proposed reduction jeopardizes the operation of New Jersey’s 18 community colleges, which serve over 230,000 residents and power key industries. He said colleges will be forced to make difficult decisions, including raising tuition, cutting programs and student supports, and reducing staffing.

“Roughly 55% of community college funding comes from students paying tuition. Students go to community college so they can graduate without debt. We can’t support a state budget that unfairly burdens our most economically disadvantaged college students,” Fantasia said. “Our county colleges serve both valedictorians and adults earning their GEDs. They are able to respond to the needs of the community by acting as an information hub for local veterans, opening campus food banks, and holding workshops for senior citizens and high schoolers alike. We are committed to collectively working with our colleagues and stakeholders to prioritize funding for our community colleges, while highlighting their invaluable contributions to this state.”

Assemblywoman Dawn Fantasia

Only about 20% of funding for community colleges comes from the state, putting it among the top five most underfunded systems in the nation. County college officials, who did not expect the $20 million increase last year to be a one-time state investment, are clamoring to understand the rationale behind the decrease, but have yet to be provided answers. They plan to attend the first public budget hearing on March 11 to make their case.