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Governors' Higher Ed Reforms Win Approval in MA, NJ

July 11, 2012

Two bold proposals seeking to make big changes to community colleges in Massachusetts and New Jersey research universities recently were approved by lawmakers. In Massachusetts, more funding for the state's 15 community colleges is tied to increased oversight, performance measures and integration of workforce development initiatives. Meanwhile, New Jersey lawmakers passed a bill merging a medical and dentistry school with Rutgers University in hopes of strengthening partnerships for research projects and drawing more federal funding. In both states, the governors say the reforms are crucial for economic and job growth.

The skills mismatch in the labor market is a hot topic for state and education leaders. Businesses say they have jobs to fill but not enough qualified people to fill them. Many state leaders are responding to the call from industry by working with colleges to better match employer needs. Gov. Patrick's plan to provide more skilled workers for regionally specific jobs by increasing oversight and integration of workforce development initiatives was included in the FY13 budget signed into law this week (see the Feb. 22, 2012 issue of the Digest).

Under the plan, a new community college workforce grant advisory committee will establish criteria and guidelines for awarding grants to community colleges based on partnerships with businesses and other educational institutions, alignment of degree programs with regional workforce demands, and higher rates of degree completion. The FY13 budget provides new funding of $5 million in Performance Incentive grants to support the initiative. Another $2.25 million in Rapid Response grants also will be distributed through a competitive process. To obtain the funding, community colleges must establish workforce training programs that begin within three months of an employer request and provide accelerated degree or certificate programs for working adults.

The legislation also creates an Office of Coordination within the Department of Higher Education, calls for establishing a clearinghouse for all training opportunities, and requires the commissioner of higher education to develop a funding formula for community colleges based partly on performance. Lawmakers rejected a component of the governor's plan to give state education officials greater say in setting student fees, reports The Boston Globe.

The FY13 enacted budget is available at: http://www.mass.gov/bb/gaa/fy2013/index.html.

New Jersey
Gov. Chris Christie recently confirmed his support for a bill approved by lawmakers to overhaul the higher education system in New Jersey even through it has undergone several revisions since the version backed by the governor was first announced in January. The reform bill, known as the New Jersey Medical and Health Sciences Education Restructuring Act, is aimed at elevating Rutgers University to a top-tier medical education and biomedical research institution that will attract business investment and bolster the regional economy.

Major parts of the restructuring effort include Rutgers taking over most of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) and Rutgers-Camden forming a partnership with Rowan University. A school of Biomedical and Health Sciences within Rutgers will be comprised of the schools, institutes and centers of UMDNJ. The legislation also establishes Rowan as a public research university. The first version of the bill would have allowed Rowan University to absorb Rutgers-Camden, which prompted several months of protests from Rutgers students, alumni and officials, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. A last minute amendment to the bill allows Rutgers to retain control of its Camden campus.

The plan, which was passed 59-19 in the Assembly and 29-9 in the Senate, will not be implemented until next year and must get final approval from the Board of Governors, reports The Associated Press. The legislature also passed a separate ballot measure that asks voters to approve in November a $750 million bond for buildings and upgrades at all New Jersey colleges and universities.

The corresponding bills, A.3102/S.2063 and A.3139/S.2500 await the governor's signature and are available at: http://www.njleg.state.nj.us.

Massachusetts, New Jerseyhigher ed, workforce