Every day is a gift- that’s why they call it the “present.” But COMMERCE went a step further and asked a diverse group of New Jersey’s business and education leaders to discuss their thoughts on 2015.
In 2015, Union, New Jersey’s Kean University will be developing several new undergraduate and advanced degree programs, including the Michael Graves School of Architecture; graduate degrees in such healthcare sciences as physical therapy and physician’s assistant studies; and a doctorate degree in nursing leadership, says President Dr. Dawood Farahi. In addition, he notes that students have been migrating to business studies, a trend that he expects to continue in 2015.
“Over the last three years, Kean saw a dramatic decrease in the number of students in the Liberal Arts master’s program,” he reports. “Meanwhile, there was a significant (31 percent) increase in the number of students enrolled in Kean’s MBA Global Management program.”
This trend and other market factors spurred Kean, in 2014, to launch a School of Global Business.
“We are seeing continued strength in science, technology and mathematics (STEM) degree programs,” Farahi adds. “Most recently, Kean’s New Jersey Center for STEM launched the Institute for Life Science Entrepreneurship (ILSE) as a regional research integrator, accelerator and incubator.”
He’s also upbeat about the prospect of increased enrollment in 2015 and beyond, as the university also continues to attract older, part-time students.
“One in four Kean students are above the age of 25, and slightly greater than one in four are part-time,” Farahi explains. “Many of our students work fulltime and attend Kean part-time, and many of our students may not have had the opportunity to attend college right out of high school.”
“In the fall of 2015, we expect to implement enhancements to our existing weekend and evening offerings,” she says. “Given the demographic trends—a drop in the traditional college- age population—we’re seeing an increase in older and part-time students.”
Because these older students often work or have family and other obligations that prevent them from attending traditional daytime or evening classes, Brookdale has developed a “blended” offering of online and face-to-face learning environments.
“Students find our learning management system intuitive,” reports Murphy. “The navigation process is user-friendly, and the coursework itself is clear and delivers useful knowledge in an effective way.”
She’s also seeing a subtle shift in the kinds of courses that students are taking.
“As a comprehensive community college, we’re committed to helping students prepare for life, personally and professionally,” explains Murphy. “Many people start here and earn an associate’s degree, then transfer to a four-year institution to complete their baccalaureate degree. We offer a solid base in liberal arts studies, but we also have a growing number of students signing up for business and professional certification and other business-related programs. Liberal arts studies are an anchor for us, but we know we must also align our course offerings with today’s technical demands.”
Increasing enrollment, and the growing realization that “the value of a college degree has never been higher,” is spurring optimism about 2015 at The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey in Galloway, according to its President, Dr. Herman Saatkamp.
“Early activity in the fall 2015 freshmen enrollment cycle gives us reason to be cautiously optimistic,” he says, noting that applications are up more than 10 percent compared to this time last year.
“A number of factors contribute to freshmen applications, such as the cost of a college education and a growing awareness of the value of a distinctive Stockton education. The college’s reputation for quality is attracting students who historically had looked to go outof- state, but who are seriously considering value options in-state.”
Incoming students continue to show interest in Stockton’s liberal arts offerings, along with “proportionate increases” in Business and other programs, reports Dr. Saatkamp. “Our fastestgrowing program is the B.S. in the School of Health Sciences.”
Unlike some colleges, Stockton is not seeing a jump in older or part-time students.
“That may be the result of Stockton’s location away from urban centers, and our recruitment emphasis on fulltime, residential students,” explains Dr. Saatkamp. “However, the college is developing additional options for online or accelerated courses that are attractive to those already working.”
Stockton’s School of Graduate and Continuing Studies and Southern Regional Institute-Educational Technology Training Center (SRI-ETTC) is also training “thousands of professionals each year to help their career advancement,” he adds.
Enrollment at Trenton, New Jersey-based Thomas Edison State College has been steadily increasing, and “we expect that will continue in 2015,” says College President Dr. George A. Pruitt. “We’ve been able to grow because we provide highquality academic programs that offer the flexibility and value our students expect. We remain focused on serving self-directed adults with programs designed around their unique needs.”
With a tight job market, many students today are majoring in business and technology, but Dr. Pruitt says a well-rounded education will reflect a dose of liberal arts.
“Critical thinking, social responsibility, ethics and other tenets of the liberal arts are especially relevant today,” says Dr. Pruitt, “regardless of whether a student is studying accounting, engineering or business administration. Without a multidisciplinary approach, you risk learning in a vacuum.”
In 2015 and beyond, many of those students will likely be older, he adds.
“This is a major segment of the higher education market in America today,” notes Dr. Pruitt. “The average age of our students is about 36, and we continue to pioneer methods that enable adult learners to achieve their goals.”
Regardless of age, a college degree is increasingly important.
“One of best things about the value of a college degree is that it increases its value as time progresses,” explains Dr. Pruitt. “It is an investment that never depreciates. Our students complete their degrees for many reasons. For some, it’s about personal fulfillment. Others come back to prepare for professional advancement or to set an example for their children or grandchildren.”
Some education leaders, such as Monmouth University President Dr. Paul R. Brown, say that students (and the Bank of Mom and Dad) in 2015 and beyond will continue to consider job prospects as part of their course-selection process.
“Students and their parents are increasingly focused on employment related outcomes when selecting a college,” he explains. At the graduate level, for example, the West Long Branch, New Jersey-based institution is seeing “robust demand, especially for our healthcare-related programs, which have a clear focus on professional success.”
A college degree is more valuable than ever, Dr. Brown adds.
“In September, The Wall Street Journal cited research from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York which indicates that the median wage of an American with a bachelor’s degree was $48,000 last year, 63 percent higher than the $25,052 earned by workers with only a high school diploma,” he says, noting that a degree will be even more important in coming years. “According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, there will be an 18 percent increase in jobs requiring a master’s degree by 2018.”
In 2015, Brown also expects undergraduate enrollment to increase by about 5 percent. “Compared to the same time last year, undergraduate applications are already up by more than a thousand,” he notes, adding that many are younger, fulltime students. “More of our undergraduate students are enrolled fulltime and— even at the graduate level—we are seeing more students choose to study fulltime.”
In 2015, Bloomfield College will see a continued influx of international students, says Dr. Richard A. Levao, president of the Bloomfield, New Jersey-based institution. “As the global economy becomes more connected, and the middle class grows in Asia, more students are coming to America to broaden their education and knowledge.”
He also says the trend of growing enrollment in “professional and technical” disciplines will continue in 2015 and beyond, although these areas of study still require a liberal arts core— in addition to the specific professional and technical studies—to foster critical thinking and other skills essential to success.
“We don’t see as many students majoring in the humanities such as English, History or Philosophy, but they still take these courses as part of the General Education core,” Dr. Levao explains. “Psychology and Behavioral Sciences are popular majors, and we have organized four professional divisions: Nursing, Business, including Accounting, Computer Science and other disciplines; Education, Creative Arts and Technology, including Animation, Music Technology and Game Development.”
In today’s environment, a college degree is becoming increasingly necessary, he adds.
“Data from the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics makes it clear that there’s a growing earnings gap between those who do or do not have a college degree,” explains Dr. Levao. “During the height of the recession, those who had nothing beyond their high school diploma had a greater chance of losing their job—and in 2015 and the foreseeable future, the gap will get even wider.”
Caldwell University President Dr. Nancy Blattner is upbeat about 2015, noting that “based on the last five years, and the number of current inquires and applications,” the Caldwell, New Jerseybased institution expects enrollment to remain constant or increase, given the “packed” attendance at the institution’s open-house events.
The school—which achieved university status in July 2014—has a growing nursing program and also offers New Jersey’s only Ph.D. program in Applied Behavioral Analysis for autism.
In 2015, Dr. Blattner expects to continue to see a student migration away from liberal arts as many move to professional programs, including Business and Nursing.
“But our programs still offer a strong liberal arts core,” she says. “It’s important to have a good background in communications, so you’re able to work well with a team, and communicate effectively.”
Fulltime, traditional students comprise most of the university’s population, although Caldwell is venturing into online and evening programs to serve working adults and those with other family responsibilities that eat up their daytime hours.
“I tell students that they’ll probably be working for 50 years after they graduate college, thanks to longer lives and an uncertain economy,” says Dr. Blattner. “They’ll probably change careers—not just jobs—multiple times, and that’s when the flexibility and problem- solving background of a liberal arts education can really help. Thanks to technological advances, up to 60 percent of the jobs that today’s graduates will hold haven’t even been invented yet— so what you studied is not as important as the underlying foundation of your education.”
“As always, the regulatory environment is something Magyar and all banks will have to address next year,” he reports. “Increasing regulation means increased costs for banks, and at Magyar we’re focused on meeting these new requirements while maintaining our high level of customer service.”
A new Magyar Bank Web site “will allow us to better serve our customer base and provide information for new visitors,” notes Fitzgerald. “The Web is the first place people go to find information, and our new site will improve our customer’s banking experience, and give new visitors some insight on what Magyar Bank is all about.”
As part of the new Web site, Magyar is also upgrading its online banking service, with a new look and feel designed to make it faster for customers to enroll.
“We’re also introducing the Popmoney feature, allowing customers to pay individuals electronically,” explains Fitzgerald.
With so many positive changes, “I’m optimistic about 2015,” he adds, noting that although economic growth may not be robust, “I do see some positive signs of continued improvement in New Jersey’s economy.”
A stronger national economy could prompt a rise in interest rates, but “until we see some signs of stronger inflation, I don’t think interest rates will increase fast enough to have a significant impact on the economy, or banking in general,” Fitzgerald adds.
“The Affordable Care Act definitely affects both our firm and our clients,” he reports. “The continued increase in health insurance is a major concern.”
The economy, and New Jersey’s regulations and taxes are also on his mind.
“We’re looking at various alternatives and strategies to navigate the ever increasing challenges as efficiently as possible,” Mehaffey says. “This process includes thinking ‘out of the box.’”
Keeping ahead of the ever-changing business environment means keeping on top of regulatory, accounting standards and tax law changes, he adds. And being a business in New Jersey has both its benefits and challenges.
“The state’s budgetary problems make it a very high-tax environment,” explains Mehaffey. “However, the overall wealth and proximity to New York City also creates opportunities for businesses to grow and flourish.”
Mehaffey is also upbeat about 2015, noting that “We look to continue to grow our practice areas of medical, real estate and not-for-profit.” On a wider scale, he thinks the New Jersey and the national economy “will grow at a modest pace in 2015. There seem to be enough positive signs to offset the challenges.”
“Building on our 20 years of doing business in the Garden State, UnitedHealthcare is poised to lead the way in transforming the health system so that we provide higher quality outcomes at a lower cost,” says Michael McGuire, CEO of the Iselin, New Jerseybased health insurance provider. “In partnership with the physicians and other healthcare providers in our network, we are developing new models of integrated care based on analysis of shared medical treatment data, identification of best practices and implementation of new payment models.” New Jersey is a relatively healthy state, he adds, noting that it ranks “11th among all states in America’s Health rankings this year,” but the state continues to have a dangerous rate of obesity (26 percent), and diabetes (9.2 percent). “Our challenge as a health insurance company is continue to provide tools, resources and new ways to encourage healthy behavior among the more than 1.6 million New Jersey residents covered by our plans,” reports McGuire. He says that 2015 will be “a very exciting year for UnitedHealthcare,” as the organization joins New Jersey’s healthcare. gov marketplace for the first time, offering six plans with different combinations of premiums, deductibles and co-pays.
“Also in 2015, we will be adding two brand new plan designs to our innovative Garden State plan for both small and large business owners,” McGuire explains. He notes they will offer “an attractive set of benefits, an extensive New Jersey-specific provider network and lower-cost options.”
“Our industry has become ‘smarter’ since the 2008 recession,” says Rotay, whose company has an office in Saddle Brook, New Jersey. “The opportunity for investment and retooling appears to be on the horizon.”
Paul Davis Restoration and Remodeling has also expanded its proactive offerings to assist people and companies prior to a need for the company’s services.
“We provide tips, training and strategies to prevent damage before a disaster occurs,” Rotay notes, adding that he sees interest rates staying relatively low at least through 2015. “Usually, our workload follows economic trends, at least to some degree. So, if there’s little interest rate movement, it will maintain our industry like it did in 2014.”
But rising regulatory and healthcare costs are hurting, he adds.
“The intentions of the regulations are very admirable; however, many regulations require our operating costs to escalate and also limit the opportunities for employees,” he reports.
To contain healthcare costs, Paul Davis Restoration and Remodeling has developed wellness programs and has taken other steps.
“The company has assumed more risk, and we are involving our employees’ input to assist in creative ideas to control costs,” says Rotay. “But the ACA’s rules have an effect on us and have limited our ability to assist employees. This has increased our overall costs while reducing the benefits to the employees. Activities or benefits for employees will be affected in 2015.”
One big concern involves new IRS regulations governing the tax treatment of business equipment and other assets.
“The new rules affect depreciation and other issues,” says Rollins.
“Complying with them will require CPA firms to take a comprehensive look at clients’ policies to determine if any tax treatments need to be modified.”
That’s on top of the questions that are being raised about the Affordable Care Act.
“Clients are constantly questioning us about it,” she notes. “We’re keeping on top of it, and working closely with clients to address their concerns about compliance and other ‘grey areas.’”
Her 24-person firm is keeping on top of new accounting pronouncements, IRS regulations and other matters by engaging in intensive research and other efforts. Those activities all add to the firm’s costs, but there’s no way to avoid it, Rollins reports.
“We’re a trusted advisor,” she says. “Clients depend on us to provide answers. And as companies look to stay lean, they’re outsourcing more ‘back office’ work to us, including accounts receivable and accounts payable activities.”
Kreinces Rollins & Shanker is taking steps to ensure it can keep providing a high level of service—for example, the firm recently acquired a tax practice owned by a sole practitioner who was ready to retire. “We’ve been growing organically, and we’re also open to additional mergers and acquisitions,” Rollins says. “But we’re not looking to be bought out. Instead, we’ll do the acquisitions.”
In 2015, “companies of all sizes” will continue to look for ways to transform their businesses, “both to stay relevant and to manage increased regulation and competition,” says Kelly Watson, CPA, the managing partner of KPMG’s New Jersey office in Short Hills, New Jersey. Besides helping businesses, “in many parts of the country, we are also helping states to implement health insurance exchanges,” she adds.
Attracting the best and brightest professionals in key areas is a priority for KPMG, explains Watson. “Additionally, we are continuing to enhance our capabilities in specific industries such as healthcare and financial services and growth areas such as cloud and data analytics.”
In recent months, the Big Four CPA firms have made seven acquisitions to enhance its capabilities in key areas, such as alternative investments; mobile, data and analytics; and cyber security, reports Watson. “We’ve also launched a Strategy practice to respond to the growing demand in the marketplace for integrated, end-to-end transformation solutions. In 2015, we will continue to invest in new solutions and recruiting top talent.”
In 2015 and beyond, Watson says New Jersey will continue to be a good fit for KPMG. And based on the conversations she has had with New Jersey business leaders, “I would say that folks are optimistic and feeling good about the prospects in 2015. The U.S. economy is well-positioned for moderate growth as well, but we are not without our challenges such as immigration, trade agreements and tax reform.”