Can NJ’s Student ‘Brain Drain’ Problem be Fixed?
New Jersey education officials are hoping new efforts will stop the student "brain drain" that has impacted the state for decades.
Thanks to issues like higher education affordability and lack of dormitory and classroom space, the state's best and brightest high school graduates continue to leave the Garden State to attend colleges and universities out-of-state. In some cases, they never return.
A report released in July 2014 by the National Center for Education Statistics ranked New Jersey as the worst in the nation for the number of students who leave their hometown state to attend school elsewhere. The report showed that in 2012, 34,875 students left the Garden State to attend colleges and universities elsewhere, while only 5,638 out-of-staters enrolled in New Jersey colleges and universities. The net loss was 29,237 students.
Education officials are hoping that money made available to the state's colleges and universities, and well as private institutions, research facilities and community colleges will change that.
In 2012, New Jersey voters approved a bond issue, Building Our Future, to allocate $750 billion dollars for higher education construction, accessibility and affordability.
"We are seeing beautiful new science facilities, academic buildings, classrooms, and libraries that are going up at all of our institutions,” said Michael Klein, CEO of the New Jersey Association of State Colleges and Universities.
Klein said he believes the new additions will help attract more students and make them want to stay and go to school in New Jersey.
The state is also making inroads to make higher education more affordable.
“Many colleges are now offering students the chance to graduate in three years, instead of four, but it really requires a commitment on the part of the student as well. It’s a real partnership between the institution and the student. The student needs to go full-time, make a commitment to go in the summer,” Klein said.
Ongoing and new partnerships between four-year institutions and the state's community colleges is also helping to hold the line on higher education costs.
Klein added another program that’s helping students hold the line on costs is a partnership with Jersey’s community colleges that features a seamless transfer of credits.
“If a student completes their associate degree and gets accepted to one of our institutions at the state colleges and universities, they hit the ground running as a junior,” Klein said. “If they’re accepted to a state college or university, they will get credit for their work and begin as a junior. Sixty of those credits from their entire associate degree counts towards their general education requirements at our schools.”
He pointed out higher education institutions do recognize the loan burden that many students are taking on, and some schools, including Rutgers Newark and Rutgers Camden, as well as New Jersey City University are now offering a programs to help with that.
“It’s for students coming from families with a yearly income of $60,000 or less,” Klein said. “If they max out on the federal and state grant programs and still have a financial need left over, rather than needing to borrow to cover that cost, the institution will cover it.”
So how much is this really helping to stop Jersey’s brain drain problem?
Klein admits even with all of these efforts, students are still leaving the state.
"The sheer number of students that leaves is still, I think, a great concern for the state of New Jersey. We’re losing a lot of talent,” Klein said.
Part of the problem is there's simply not enough room.
"It’s a capacity problem, if we had more room we could have more New Jersey students here in the state getting their college degree. We simply don’t have the room for them,” Klein said.
For those that do stay, they end up doing quite well.
“The students that do stay in the Garden State do very well. We've got the sixth best retention rate between freshman and sophomore year, 85 percent of our students stay in school. That’s important because it means more students are on their way to graduating on time, and New Jersey does a great job with that,” Klein said.