State senators are looking to conduct an overview of New Jersey’s higher education system in conjunction with the term of incoming Gov. Phil Murphy.

The Senate Higher Education Committee endorsed bills Monday that would give the state’s higher education secretary until mid-2018 to complete a study of why so many high-school graduates leave New Jersey for college and give the state auditor a year to do performance reviews of every public college and university in the state.

“We do have a new administration. It’s just another way of just seeing where everybody is. They’re going to be starting all over again, so to speak,” said Sen. Sandra Cunningham, D-Hudson, a sponsor of the college audits measure.

The trend under which New Jersey leads the nation in a net loss of new college students has been so pervasive it has its own nickname – “brain drain.”

In 2014, the most recent year for which data is available, New Jersey had the biggest outmigration of college students in the nation – a net loss of 29,000 students, with the departure of nearly 35,000 high school graduates offset by the gain of less than 6,000 students enrolling from out of state.

“It hasn’t been studied in any way, shape or form.,” said Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr., R-Union. “In 18 months, we can get real metrics, real numbers, real experiences of students and their families.”

“We’ve got to figure out why people are choosing at such high rates to go to campuses across the country and not stay in state as one of their first choices,” he said.

The state would have 18 months to survey high school seniors and guidance counselors, review the academic and socioeconomic characteristics of students who stay or leave and analyze whether the state’s small size means students leave to get some desired distance and independence.

“If they want to go out of state, that’s great. We’ve got to make sure they’re doing that for a variety of reasons, not just because New Jersey isn’t affordable or the course offerings that they want are not available,” Kean said.

Cunningham described the bill requiring performance audits of all public colleges as a precautionary measure.

It would direct the state auditor to conduct performance reviews looking at online course offerings, remedial courses and the market value of the college degrees.

“It would also include what your graduation rates and you measure that against what we’re paying in terms of dollars,” Cunningham said.

The bills would have to approved by the full Senate and Assembly before Jan. 9, then be signed into law by Gov. Chris Christie by Jan. 16, in order to become law this legislative session.

New Jersey: Decoded cuts through the cruft and gets to what matters in New Jersey news and politics. Follow on Facebook and Twitter.

Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5 and the editor of New Jersey: Decoded. Follow @NJDecoded on Twitter and Facebook. Contact him at

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