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Keeping Talented Students in New Jersey’s Workforce

by: Anthony Russo

THE COMMERCE and Industry Association of New Jersey and its members want to work with state government and our colleges and universities to keep the best and the brightest students from New Jersey in New Jersey. We have one of the most educated workforces, and providing opportunities for the next generation of inventors, entrepreneurs and leaders is in our mutual economic interests.

When students leave New Jersey to attend college, they often buy homes, start businesses and raise their families in other places, outside the Garden State. This is a brain drain and a loss of intellect New Jersey cannot afford. Students leaving New Jersey for a college education means the loss of an estimated $4.6 billion every year in higher education expenditures made by New Jersey families.

“To keep more of New Jersey’s gifted students from leaving the state, we must be the best at the undergraduate education business,” explains Rutgers President Robert L. Barchi, M.D., Ph.D. “We must become an importer, rather than an exporter, of intellect.”

New Jersey is one of the biggest exporters of college students, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Top-tier students are being lost to out-of-state colleges and universities. New York and Pennsylvania have maintained out-of-state tuition rates that are competitive with New Jersey’s in-state tuition for public, higher education—making them an attractive option.

In 2011, the Higher Education Task Force created by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s Executive Order No. 26 and chaired by former Governor Thomas Kean, released its report, which noted that New Jersey leads the nation in net out-migration of college-bound students—losing 30,000 a year while only taking in 4,000 from other states.

“New Jersey is losing too many of its best and brightest minds,” explained Governor Kean.

Given New Jersey’s geographic location, students can be only one hour away from home, but are still going out-of-state if they attend schools in Connecticut, Pennsylvania or New York.

“As a state, we should stop denigrating our own institutions and, instead, recognize and celebrate the many high quality academic programs, colleges and universities available in-state,” says Montclair State University President Dr. Susan A. Cole. “The state should develop public policy and programs that incentivize our best high school graduates to stay in-state for their college educations.”

One example of a program that addresses the Garden State’s brain drain is NJ STARS, which awards students who graduate in the top 15 percent of their high school class with free tuition at a New Jersey community college. It has kept more than 20,000 of the best students in New Jersey.

“Many of our colleges are nationally ranked, and this information needs to be more broadly marketed,” explains NJIT President Dr. Joel S. Bloom. “Critical data, such as important differences or niche programs, could be explored. The return on the investment could be quantified. For example, NJIT excels at teaching applied, practical approaches to STEM—science, technology, engineering and math subjects. The demand for STEM professionals exceeds the supply in New Jersey.”

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, jobs in STEM fields are predicted to increase 17 percent by 2018, compared to 9.8 percent growth in non-STEM-related occupations. This trend also reinforces the need for continuing education and lifelong learning, as the jobs of the future may not exist today.

A quality higher education system is good for our economy, our students and our future. Thus, it is essential for New Jersey to do what’s necessary to support our colleges and universities, and partner with them so the best and brightest find jobs here—and become a part of the success story we are writing for our children and grandchildren.

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