New Jersey Commission on Higher Education
NJ's Renewable Resource:
A Systemwide Accountability Report
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For the past decade, educational policymakers have stressed the
importance of institutional quality, productivity, and effectiveness.
These leaders look to state-level accountability measures to
guide state planning, form a context for budgetary decisions,
and monitor the return on public investment in colleges and universities.
Institutional accountability is a natural consequence of institutional
autonomy, a major objective in the 1994 restructuring of New Jersey's
higher education system. Annual institutional excellence and
accountability reports were launched in the fall of 1995 to inform
the public and state policymakers about individual institutions.
This first systemwide report on New Jersey higher education complements
institutional reports. The document provides valuable information
and opens the door for meaningful policy discussions and decisions.
New Jersey's statewide goals for higher education are affordability
and accessibility, institutional excellence, and effectiveness
in addressing the societal and economic needs of the state. This
report provides evidence of progress in meeting these goals and
informs planning efforts for future improvement. Following are
some of the major issues, successes, and challenges discussed
in the report:
- Data on affordability and access are measures of how effectively
statewide systems respond to demand for higher education. New
Jersey's relatively high tuitions are matched by generous financial
aid programs, supporting the state's long-standing commitment
to assist any qualified resident who lacks the economic means
to pursue higher education in the state. By several measures
the state ranks among the most generous in the nation in student
financial assistance programs. New Jersey's strong grant programs
play an important role in ameliorating somewhat the impact of
the growing student indebtedness resulting from the federal move
away from grants to loans. However, the growing student demand
for increasingly costly grant programs poses policy questions
on how to best distribute finite resources.
- Rates of student retention, transfer, and graduation, including
the average time it takes to earn an undergraduate degree, are
important performance indicators. New Jersey's third semester
retention rate exceeds national averages. The challenge is to
have the positive retention rates reflected in improved graduation
rates and reduced time to degree.
- Equality of access to and success in higher education for
New Jersey's neediest students, underprepared students, and minorities
are often elusive. Performance indicators in these areas provide
partial evidence of success in fulfilling these important state
goals. Senior public institutions in New Jersey are more successful
than institutions in many other states in enrolling and graduating
minority students. More definitive data are needed in this area
for community colleges and independent institutions. Nevertheless,
there are data indicating significant differences between outcomes
for minority students and those for white students in all sectors.
Underprepared students also remain less likely than others to
successfully complete their degrees, despite extensive opportunities
for remediation at New Jersey institutions. Similarly, graduation
rates are also lower for students from the lowest income brackets.
- The state's commitment to access and equality of access provides
important opportunities for many state residents who might not
otherwise have them. Nevertheless, there is an inverse relationship
between access and graduation rates, including time to completion,
which impacts the cost of education. Financial need and inadequate
basic skills, factors that threaten access to higher education,
also threaten academic success. In fact, maximizing access increases
on average what it costs to educate students, and it negatively
affects graduation rates and the average time it takes to complete
a degree. Striking the appropriate balance between access and
productivity is a challenge for the future.
- Roughly 285,000 undergraduates attend the state's public and
independent institutions, most of whom are New Jersey residents.
The majority of those students report satisfaction with their
college experience. At the same time, a high proportion of residents
leave the state to attend colleges and universities elsewhere,
and the proportion of students from out of state attending New
Jersey institutions is low. However, this long-standing atypical
pattern of student migration into and out of New Jersey has had
no negative effect on the educational level of the populace.
In fact, New Jersey's residents have a higher than average level
of postsecondary educational attainment. The lingering policy
question of whether the state should attempt to alter the current
higher education student migration pattern merits exploration.
- Individuals' investments in higher education are repaid through
learning and enhanced career preparation that translates into
higher wages and a higher standard of living. The state and its
citizens benefit from cultural and community enrichment and economic
development generated by higher education research, technical
assistance, training, and technology transfer. Significant progress
has been made by New Jersey institutions over the past 10 years
in generating funding for higher education research. However,
the state remains below the national average in research funding
per capita. Considering the impact of university-based research
on economic development, the state must determine whether additional
resources for research are a priority.
- Most of the data in this first report are from fiscal year
1994 and earlier; therefore, they provide a baseline for future
years. Unfortunately, performance indicators for higher education
are in an early stage of formulation, and there is a need for
more complete and accurate information for those indicators that
exist. Consequently, future reports should use new indicators,
and establish processes for producing better data. In addition,
beginning with next year's report, additional cost and productivity
data for each sector will help to better describe the state's
return on investment in higher education.
This systemwide accountability report, along with individual institutional
reports, is an initial effort and an important first step in providing
information on the state's higher education system to state policymakers
and the public. New Jersey's new accountability reporting system
is an integral part of the restructuring of higher education and
relates directly to the master planning process. Once the master
plan is in place and a clearer direction is established for New
Jersey's higher education system, the accountability reporting
system will evolve and more completely document progress toward
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