Sparta-based legislators ask Murphy to restore $20M in lost aid to community colleges

Saying they play a vital role in workforce development, three northwest New Jersey lawmakers — state Sen. Parker Space, Assemblyman Michael Inganamort and Assemblywoman Dawn Fantasia — are calling on Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration to increase funding to community colleges in their area and around the state.

The lawmakers (all R-Sparta) are reacting to a perceived $20 million cut to community colleges in Murphy’s recent budget proposal address.

Murphy has initially proposed to give community colleges $149 million — which is $20 million less than they eventually received last year, but the same amount as was originally proposed last year. Murphy has said he is interested in negotiating this funding — as well as funding in many other areas.

The legislators said any potential negotiated add should come as soon as possible. Should extra funding not be found, raising tuition is the most likely option.

“New Jersey simply cannot afford to continually underfund community colleges,” Space said. “They play a vital role in our state’s workforce development efforts and provide affordable access to a diverse body of students who have a desire to earn a degree or certificate, including some who thought they’d never be able to get into college or have their unique educational needs met in a higher education setting.

“The astounding lack of investment in our community colleges by the state is shortsighted and hurts educational opportunities.”

The state has 18 community colleges, including three near the legislators’ home: Sussex County Community College, Warren County Community College and the County of College of Morris.

“We are very concerned about what this cut means for Sussex County Community College, the County College of Morris and Warren County Community College, because they all drive partnerships with employers, county governments and high schools to create career pipelines in this region,” Inganamort said. “From nursing to manufacturing and everything in between, there is a great need for specially trained residents with the skills and education to fill in-demand jobs and they are coming from our county colleges.”

The $20 million increase in operating aid last year represented the first significant state investment for community colleges in more than a decade. Community college leaders said they were surprised the increase was not a part of this year’s proposed allocation.

The lawmakers said it goes against the governor’s narrative.

“The governor’s claim of significant investment in New Jersey’s county colleges is simply false,” Inganamort said. “New Jersey has one the worst state-funded county college systems in the country, even before this cut. It’s time for the state to reverse course.”