For NJ to Fully Recover from the Pandemic, Community Colleges’ Funding Must Be Restored

New Jersey recovered economically, and – to some extent, emotionally – from 9/11, the Great Recession of 2009, and Superstorm Sandy thanks in large part to the State’s community colleges. In the aftermath of those challenging times, enrollment at New Jersey’s 18 community colleges skyrocketed as high school grads to senior citizens signed on for the affordable, high-quality, community college education that enabled them to establish or revamp their lives and livelihoods.

New Jersey’s community colleges enroll over 325,000 students at more than 60 campuses, making them the largest provider of higher education in the state. Yet, New Jersey’s community colleges haven’t had an increase in state operating aid for ten years, and funding cuts that occurred in the last recession were never restored. So even before the pandemic and the loss of revenue in its wake, New Jersey’s community colleges have been working from a deficit.

As a result of the unprecedented pandemic, half of state aid to public colleges and universities was frozen in the fourth quarter of FY 2020. Further, Governor Murphy’s proposed budged for fifth quarter FY 2020 contains zero funding for public higher education operating aid.

If the people of New Jersey are to find their way past the physical, economic and social devastation of COVID-19, they must have the services and support of our community colleges, and our community colleges must have the financial support of Trenton.

Every dollar cut from community college operating budgets affects each and every student, faculty and staff member, vendor, surrounding businesses, all of their children, parents and family members, as well as the members of our community at large.

The pandemic drew back the curtain on inequalities that exist and especially affect Latino and African-American citizens. Our neighbors have health, economic, food, technical, and, yes, educational disparities that have been overlooked or disregarded for decades. It’s a proven fact that New Jersey’s community colleges have been instrumental in helping reduce and eliminate many of these disparities.

The ethnic composition of Hudson County Community College’s nearly 18,000 credit and non-credit students is 54 percent Latino, 13 percent African American, 8 percent Asian, 13 percent White, and 12 percent unknown/other. HCCC is a recognized Hispanic Serving Institution. One-third of HCCC students representing 119 countries were born outside of the United States. The Equality of Opportunity Project ranked HCCC among the top 5 percent of institutions nationally for its impact on the social mobility of its students.

Ensuring student success is our priority. HCCC has received national awards for our library, tutoring and student support services. HCCC students have earned nationwide acclaim with scholarships and fellowships from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and a host of top colleges and universities.

HCCC has established a myriad of workforce development programs – apprenticeships and mentorships – with area businesses. The HCCC Culinary/Hospitality Management program was ranked number six in the U.S. by Best Choice Schools. Over 94 percent of HCCC Nursing program graduates passed the NCLEX first time out, placing the program’s graduates in the top tier of two- and four-year nursing programs nationwide. The HCCC Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), Arts, and Cultural Affairs programs are also exceptional.

Throughout the pandemic, HCCC assisted our students by purchasing and distributing 650 Chromebooks so they could safely pursue their studies from their homes throughout the Spring, Summer, and Fall 2020 terms. Additionally, we provided access to food, financial assistance and social services through our “Hudson Helps” program, which has remained open three days a week on the Journal Square and North Hudson campuses throughout the pandemic.

Community is at the heart of all we do. At the height of the pandemic, the HCCC Division of Nursing and Health Sciences donated all of its PPE and health care supplies –300 gowns, 45 boxes of gloves, 175 face masks, and 60 N95 masks – to the Hudson County Office of Emergency Management. Additionally, our Culinary Arts chefs/professors prepared and served more than 900 hot, gourmet meals to those in need at Let’s Celebrate, utilizing food donated by the College.

Cutting the funding of New Jersey’s community colleges will sever the hopes and dreams of hundreds of thousands of individuals and will seriously impact the economic, social and cultural recovery and growth of Hudson County and the State of New Jersey. For the sake of our students and our community, we implore our state’s elected officials to restore at least 50 percent of fifth quarter FY 2020 funding to Hudson County Community College and all of New Jersey’s county colleges.

By Christopher M. Reber, President of Hudson County Community College