Local colleges are joining a statewide effort to convince voters to support a $750 million higher education bond referendum on the November ballot.
If approved by the voters, the funds would help pay for a health science, business or education building on the campus of Richard Stockton College in Galloway Township, and a Student Success Center and Career Center at Atlantic Cape Community College in Mays Landing.
On Monday, former Gov. Thomas Kean stood with a coalition of supporters at Rutgers University to announce the campaign. Kean said the funds are an investment in the future of New Jersey.
“It ensures our kids are prepared for a competitive global economy and sends a strong message that New Jersey is serious about attracting the high-tech jobs of the future,” said Kean, the last governor to support a higher education bond in 1988, and chairman of the new campaign.
Supporters include state business leaders and construction union officials who said the funds will provide jobs now and help train students for future jobs in health care and sciences.
The state Legislature passed the Building Our Future Bond Act authorizing the referendum this summer, and Gov. Chris Christie signed it in August.
The law requires that funds be used only for academic buildings. The colleges must contribute a 25 percent matching share toward the cost of any project.
Funds would be distributed with $300 million going to the state research institutions (Rutgers, New Jersey Institute of Technology, and likely Rowan University), almost $250 million to the remaining nine public four-year colleges, $150 million to the 19 community colleges, and about $50 million to private colleges, except for Princeton University, which has its own large endowment.
The coalition members and local college officials and students will be working to build support for the bill, registering students to vote and meeting with outside groups and newspaper editorial boards.
At a recent meeting with The Press of Atlantic City editorial board, Stockton College President Herman J. Saatkamp Jr. said the funds could go for several projects, including a health science building that would link with the nearby hospital and rehabilitation facilities to provide students with clinical opportunities.
Saatkamp said future plans also call for new academic buildings for business and education, which are growth areas for the college. He noted that the new science building, which will be completed in 2013, is only two-thirds of the size they wanted, but was all the college could afford at the time.
An analysis by The Press of Atlantic City in 2009 showed the state’s four-year colleges had $4 billion in construction debt, costing them about $250 million a year in debt service payments, at least partially funded by increased student fees.
Stockton currently has about $250 million in debt, costing about $18.5 million in debt service fees this fiscal year college officials said in August.
Rowan University spokesman Joe Cardona said their first priority would be a Health Sciences building in Camden in partnership with Rutgers Camden. Priorities on the Glassboro campus include a new College of Business building and a liberal art and sciences building.
“It’s just a wish list right now,” Cardona said, adding the proposed bond fits in with the college’s developing plan to double enrollment to 25,000 in the next 10 years.
Jacob Farbman, spokesman for the New Jersey Council of County Colleges said the council has agreed on a plan to divide the funds that is based primarily on the size and enrollment of each college.
Under the agreement, Atlantic Cape Community College would get $6.75 million in state funds and put up matching funds of $2.25 million.
Cumberland County College would receive $4.65 million and provide matching funds of $1.55 million.
Ocean County College would get $8.55 million and would put up $2.85 million in matching funds.
Atlantic Cape would use the funds to address space and capacity issues, college officials said in an email. Priority projects include building a Student Success Center and Career Planning Center on the Mays Landing Campus; renovations to the existing academic buildings on the Mays Landing campus, and, if there are enough funds, improving student space and the new culinary training kitchen at the Cape May County campus.
Farbman said one of their major concerns is that with so many items on the ballot in November, voters may just bypass the higher education bond, one of two statewide questions on the ballot.
“Studies have shown that the farther down on a ballot an item is, the less likely voters are to vote on it,” he said. “We don’t want people to just vote for president and leave.”
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