New Jerseyans spends $30 billion a year on K-12 education, and then nearly half of the students leave the state for college.

Business officials, legislators and educators are trying to figure out how to stop the bleed.

“Outmigration to this extent robs New Jersey of its future workforce, squanders taxpayers’ investment in one of the finest and most expensive K-12 educations in the country and threatens the state’s reputation for a highly educated workforce,” said NJBIA President and CEO Michele Siekerka.

An updated version of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association’s report on young adult outmigration released last week shows students are still leaving at an alarming rate, and most of them are first-time college students. Forty-three percent of New Jersey’s first-time post-secondary students go to college in another state.

The report looked at the migration patterns of New Jerseyans ages 18 to 34 and found an overall loss of 205,824 residents between 2007 and 2017. Those ages 18 to 24 accounted for nearly 60% of young adult outflow from New Jersey, but only 36% of its inflow during the same period.

Paige Beaudry, 19, of Hammonton, is finishing up her freshman year at Boston University and said, as of now, she doesn’t plan on returning to the state after college.

“I want to go to graduate school after. I want to hopefully get my PhD in chemistry. I want to go somewhere different,” said Beaudry, who is taking out loans and getting help from her parents to pay for college.

Although she knows the expense of going to a large college like Boston University, Beaudry believes the rewards will be greater.

“I knew Boston was a very diverse place that differs a lot from my hometown,” she said. “Since there are so many schools around, there’s so many opportunities to get involved in different ways. That’s something I’m not sure I would have gotten if I commuted or stayed around this area.”

This loss of students in New Jersey not only affects the future workforce, but also impacts state colleges and universities. Colleges like Stockton are responding to the outmigration by offering more competitive programming and targeting students in regions that previously weren’t a focus.

“We’re essentially competing for a smaller number of students,” said Bob Heinrich, chief enrollment management officer for Stockton University. “This is actually the first time that we’ve had more applications from North Jersey than we had from our local region.”

The cost of higher education in New Jersey also plays a role in students’ decisions to leave the state, and has been cited by Gov. Phil Murphy and Senate President Steve Sweeney when discussing reform initiatives this year.

New Jersey is considered to be a “high student debt state,” with the Class of 2017 graduating with an average of $32,247 in student debt.

“In the 2018-19 academic year, New Jersey has the fourth-highest tuition and fees in the nation at public four-year institutions. In total, 61% of New Jersey college graduates in the Class of 2017 had some form of school debt,” the update states.

Riley Ferry, 24, grew up in the Seaville section of Upper Township and after graduating from Holy Spirit High School attended Rowan University for her bachelor’s degree in history. But when researching graduate schools, she found only two options in her field of study: North Jersey or Buffalo, New York. Ferry said it saved her $100,000 in tuition to go out of state.

“It was very much so a financial choice,” Ferry said. “I knew the position and work I wanted to pursue after college required a master’s degree. I wanted to pursue it in a way that would be smart for me in the long run.”

Heinrich said students are much more conscious about debt when they choose a college than in the past.

“Students realize it’s a significant investment for themselves and their family, and there’s a lot of hesitancy to graduate with significant amounts of debt,” he said. “There’s no guarantee that you’re going to graduate and get a job right away.”

Stockton is trying to find ways to make college more affordable by expanding need-based scholarships and not just academic awards.

“We try to close the gap using institutional dollars,” Heinrich said. “That’s been pretty effective in helping to keep students in state that otherwise may have left.”

The initial report was released last year with 13 recommendations that focused on aligning education to the needs of the private sector. Some of those strategies have been put into place, including the Higher Education Branding Campaign from the New Jersey President’s Council; voter approval of a $350 million bond for expansion of Career and Technical Education at county vocational schools and $50 million toward county colleges; college affordability legislation; and laws to make apprenticeships more accessible.

“Young adults are the future of New Jersey’s workforce, and they will ultimately be the drivers of the state economy,” the update states. “In order to ensure a successful future for the Garden State, New Jersey must first attract and retain these young adults.”

Contact: 609-272-7251 CLowe@pressofac.com Twitter @clairelowe

Staff Writer

I began covering South Jersey in 2008 after graduating from Rowan University with a degree in journalism. I joined The Press in 2015. In 2013, I was awarded a NJPA award for feature writing as a reporter for The Current of Hamilton Township.

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