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Blood from a stone

The Ledger reported on Sunday that the state legislature is proposing a cap on tuition increases for New Jersey higher ed.

The appropriations bill for the fiscal year that begins July 1 would establish 3 percent caps on tuition and fee hikes levied by state colleges and universities.

The bill -- details of which were released yesterday -- also threatens to withhold federal stimulus funding designated for colleges and universities unless in-state undergraduate tuition and fee increases are curbed at 3 percent.

The 3 percent cap is well below the average increase for New Jersey colleges, which last year increased tuition about 7 percent.

The Legislature's budget also would require colleges and universities to enact furloughs, freeze wages or institute some other personnel-related cost-savings similar to a plan that the largest state workers union tentatively agreed to earlier this month.

5.25% of aid will be withheld until the legislature signs off on each school's budget.

Tuition increases are a big problem for strapped New Jersey families. So why is this bad? Two reasons.

1. Even though Gov. Corzine rescinded his proposed cuts for F.Y. 2010 (which included an additional $15.5m cut in funding to Rutgers, after funding has dropped 25% over the past decade), the legislature still has no plans to fund $30m in faculty and staff salary increases. Trenton has increased RU's fixed costs, then turns around and doesn't allow it to raise the revenue to cover a gap that was specifically created by the Statehouse. Unbelievable. I'm not sure if the wage freeze mentioned in the story concerns the same increases that were dictated before.

2. Any increased level of state meddling in Rutgers will only accomplish the goal of centralizing power in the hands of figures like Assembly Higher Education chair Patrick Diegnan, and other influential backroom pols. If it came with renewed levels of funding, that would be one thing. This is nothing but a naked power grab, the kind that state legislators were threatening last year. They enjoy power as an end in itself, never mind pulling strings for their connected friends (i.e., more Zoffingers on the board). None of them have the public's best interest at heart. This is a shot across the bow at the autonomy of Rutgers University.

On Monday, the proposal cleared committee. What can you do in the mean time before it comes up for a floor vote? Maybe call your legislators (a task that Rutgers-minded voters should liberally use in any situation), and in general raise holy hell in the media. I agree with the Ramapo President that the likely way around this legislature is a drastic increase in student fees.