With the goal of gaining an increased understanding of the COVID-19 induced challenges facing New Jersey’s institutions, the Senate Higher Education Committee held a virtual meeting on Tuesday to hear testimony from the state’s postsecondary institutions.
Numerous university presidents provided feedback including, Dr. Susan Cole, Montclair State University; Dr. Joseph Nyre, Seton Hall University; Dr. Joel Bloom, New Jersey Institute of Technology; and Dr. Anthony Munroe, Essex County College; and others.
Their message was clear. The health and safety of their community campuses remain the No. 1 priority. However, many are concerned about liability protection as they begin to strategize re-opening for their fall semesters. Many of the state’s university presidents advocated for some type of safe harbor granting them some protection from liability or penalty. A safe harbor provision could be included in statute or regulations to give peace of mind to good-faith actors trying to bring some type of normalcy back to their campus. NJBIA agrees that the higher education and the business community need liability protection moving forward.
In addition to liability concerns, university officials spoke about their complex financial situations. Seton Hall University estimates a loss of $15 million this spring, according to Nyre. The university is also estimating another loss of around $30 million next year. Essex County College is estimating up to a 50% loss in tuition and fees for next year, Munroe said. Montclair State University’s appropriation has been cut to its lowest funded amount since 1991. “Cutting institutional appropriations jeopardizes the state’s long-term assets to society,” Cole said.
The need for state appropriations was echoed by the group. In addition, many advocated for consistent funding for Community College Opportunity Grants (CCOG), Tuition Assistance Grants (TAG), the Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) and Pell grants for low-income students. New Jersey’s institutions of higher education, a major employer in our State, will need assistance recovering from this pandemic.