Voters have an important opportunity on Nov. 6, separate from the choice for president. Public Question No. 1 on the ballot places the "Building Our Future Bond Act" in the voters' hands. My intent is to provide you with information to understand the positive impact these funds could have on The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, our students and our region.

The act, if approved, would authorize the state to issue facilities improvement bonds to New Jersey's state colleges and universities. The funds can only be used for much-needed new academic and research buildings and upgrades to existing ones. I say "much-needed" because the last time a statewide bond was approved for higher education facilities in New Jersey was in 1988.

If this ballot question is approved, the state would issue bonds totaling $750 million. With interest rates so low, a true opportunity exists. The institutions receiving funds - and Stockton is certainly eligible - would in turn match each award by 25 percent. Thus, a $1 billion infusion into New Jersey's economy would occur, providing jobs for many and sorely needed academic facilities for our students. Another aspect you may want to weigh is the immediate impact the bond act would have in providing thousands of jobs in the planning and construction of these new facilities.

Stockton students would be direct beneficiaries of this funding. Our students - your children, relatives and neighbors - need and deserve a world-class education that will equip them for a lifetime of opportunities. Surrounding states such as New York and Connecticut are investing millions in their facilities, enabling students to compete and innovate in both local and global markets. New Jersey lags these states in investing in higher education facilities.

Today, Stockton graduates approximately 20 percent of all math and science majors within the state's public colleges and universities. However, our laboratories are outdated. We took action and are self-financing a new unified science center to better meet the requirements of math and science majors. However, due to budget constraints and a lack of public funding, we are able to construct a building only two-thirds as large as what is needed.

If the bond act is approved and we receive funding, a top priority would be to expand this building to full size (it was designed to be expandable) at a cost of just under $70 million. A state-of-the-art science building large enough to meet our capacity needs would provide a tremendous boost in keeping our math and science majors right here in-state. A great return on investment.

Math and science is our most critical need, but only part of the story. Other thriving academic areas, such as our schools of business and education, are also in need of classrooms and lecture facilities. A school of business carries a price tag of approximately $30 million and a school of education would cost about $14 million. This is an investment in the future of our young people, which pays dividends in supplying the workforce with skilled and highly trained employees in very important fields.

While Stockton has an extensive list of facilities needs, we are not alone. Our sister New Jersey institutions all have similar needs to stay competitive, increase capacity, increase access to higher education and upgrade outdated and overcrowded facilities.

This opportunity comes at a time when many of our state colleges and universities are struggling with facilities that are not at the same level as those in surrounding states that compete for New Jersey students. In addition, we continue to deal with a statewide capacity issue. Tens of thousands of our students go out of state to attend college because there are not enough seats available in New Jersey. Many of these students find employment in the states where they attend college and do not return to New Jersey, robbing our great state of some of its most precious human resources, and our families from being able to stay close.

As president of Stockton College, I can only provide information regarding the bond issue and cannot ask that you vote for or against it. Public questions rarely receive the publicity of high-profile political races, particularly a presidential election. However, Public Question No. 1 on your ballot, the "Building Our Future Bond Act," deserves voter attention and your very serious consideration.

Herman J. Saatkamp is president of The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.

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