April 24, 2019 | 63° F

Murphy's aspirations for free community college are met with the state's current financial troubles

Photo by Rutgers.edu |

In assessing the effects of free community college in New Jersey, John Weingart, the associate director of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers, said that some issues which may arise are how public institutions, such as Rutgers, will be affected by an increased influx of students who transfer after 2 years at another institution. 

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy's (D-N.J.) plan to make community college free during his time in office comes coupled with concerns regarding how such a proposal would be funded and how it would affect the community. 

Murphy proposed $50 million in his inaugural budget for fiscal year 2019 directed towards families with household incomes below $45,000, according to NJ Advance Media

John Weingart, the associate director of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers, said that some issues may arise with such a proposal. 

“It’s a laudable goal with a large number of challenges that would need to be overcome for it to be realized. I believe it is possible, but I don’t think it is likely," he said. 

In addition to questions about its funding, there also exists uncertainties about its impact on the higher-education community at large, Weingart said. 

When community college became more affordable in California, a number of students decided to start their education there before transferring to a four-year school, he said.  

"If that ever happened on a large scale to Rutgers among other institutions that would be a significant change and could be a serious problem. Even if the money issue is taken care of, there are other challenges to address,” he said. 

Weingart said that while Murphy's intention has been to help current and future Garden State students, fiscal challenges that already exist in-state might make it more complicated, and the possible effects need to be seriously considered.

He said he also thinks part of Murphy’s goal is to make sure that talented New Jersey residents attain more education and apply those skills while continuing to live in the Garden State. 

“There’s a serious fiscal problem in the state that’s been long standing and acknowledged by all,” he said. 

Before free community college becomes available, other needs need to be met such as the need for increased, improved and government services for residents, Weingart said

Barry Sopher, the undergraduate program director of the Department of Economics, said that there are other issues that need to be solved which might improve economic inequality in education.

“In terms of education I would be more impressed if somebody took a more serious look at how K-12 is financed around the state because I know the state does make transfers, but it really does depend on local property taxes,” he said.

That is where the inequality disadvantage starts and if taken care of it would help more people, Sopher said. 

“That’s where the disadvantage starts. Wait until college and you would not be able to help as much people as you would have if you took care of the K-12 problem. It’s a certain source of inequality," he said.    

He said he thinks that there are other issues that Murphy should be focusing on and that there are problems that arise with such a plan.

“It’s hard to believe something won’t suffer somewhere if we make community colleges free. You’re going to be faced with certain tradeoffs unless you increase the net total in the budget concerning Governor Murphy’s plan,"  Sopher said.

What is to come will not be known until the budget is adopted at the end of June for the next fiscal year. 

“It's admirable for a governor to think in terms of the whole term and not just say that everything has to be done in 6 months. I think this is important for students because the economic inequality in our country has grown so large and is such a serious problem on many fronts that initiatives that are aimed at chipping away at that are worthy of consideration," said Weignart. 

Emre Ugurlu

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