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N.J. education official: ‘An investment in a high-quality degree will pay dividends for a lifetime’

by Janessa Lee

New Jersey’s Commitment to Equity, Affordability, and Access in Higher Education

By Brian K. Bridges

As summer draws to a close and campuses buzz with the excitement of new and returning students, it is a perfect opportunity to highlight the value and importance of postsecondary education in New Jersey. A well-educated society is key to creating broad social and economic opportunities for all.

Our commitment to equity, affordability, and access has been the secret to our success on behalf of students. And we are proud to have Governor Phil Murphy’s unwavering support in our efforts. Together, we have taken concrete actions to ensure that higher education is not only affordable but also accessible to all.

Recent research published by the Heldrich Center reinforces the notion that higher education attainment in New Jersey leads to higher lifetime earnings for graduates. This holds true across all levels of education, even when considering the time and money invested in pursuing a degree. This research further underscores the value and returns on investment in postsecondary education.

Under the Murphy Administration, the Office of the Secretary of Higher Education has made responsible and student-centered investments. These investments aim to create an environment that promotes the value of a college education and other postsecondary credentials. Our goal is to strengthen opportunities and outcomes for students from all backgrounds.

One of our key focuses has been on fiscal accountability and transparency. Recent laws have created annual financial reporting requirements for public and independent institutions of higher education in New Jersey. These laws empower our office to work alongside colleges and universities, ensuring their long-term fiscal health and safeguarding the investments made by students, families, and all New Jerseyans.

Moreover, we have made significant state-level investments, such as allocating nearly $400 million for infrastructure and technology upgrades on campuses. Initiatives like the New Jersey College Promise and the Some College, No Degree initiative have also expanded student access and success. An additional $150 million in supplemental funding has been provided to incentivize degree completion and bridge equity gaps in public colleges and universities.

Admittedly, the pandemic has posed challenges to our higher education system. It has exacerbated issues that students and institutions were already facing, with mental health being a prominent concern. As students return to campus this fall, we are proud to announce a first-in-the-nation partnership with online telehealth provider Uwill. Supported by federal pandemic relief funding, this initiative will provide direct support to students for their mental health needs.

Since Governor Murphy took office in 2018, our commitment to higher education has yielded significant results. In just five years, we have secured more than $800 million in increased funding, a feat that took 18 years and six governors to achieve in the past. This substantial investment showcases our dedication to improving higher education in New Jersey.

To continue on this path of progress, we must maintain the momentum and invest strategically to meet the needs of our students and economy. By leveraging the strengths of our diverse higher education ecosystem and fostering collaboration between government, industry, and academia, we can ensure that every aspiring student is equipped with the skills they need to succeed.

Let us move forward with determination and purpose, knowing that the strides we make today have the power to shape a more equitable and prosperous New Jersey for years to come.

Brian K. Bridges, Ph.D. is the secretary of higher education for New Jersey.

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