A new plan for distributing state funds to public colleges made for a calm though lengthy Assembly budget hearing Wednesday, although the $14 million increase for four-year colleges was described as insufficient.

Higher Education Secretary Zakiya Smith Ellis said the plan is the result of dozens of meetings and forums in which thousands of people participated.

“For the first time in many years, at the urging of this body, the state has a plan for the future of higher education, and the proposed budget aligns with the vision outlined in that plan,” Smith Ellis said.

Higher Education Secretary Zakiya Smith Ellis said there’s an increase in overall funding, a redirection of $15 million in existing funding and an emphasis on rewarding desired outcomes.

“So the three components that you see: completion, graduation for those students of color and then serving low-income student populations,” Smith Ellis said. “That’s how we ultimately came up with the method.”

Montclair State University President Susan Cole said there has long been no rationale for how the state funds public colleges so welcomes the interest in a strategic plan.

“We have not had that for a long, long time, for decades. And it’s not a partisan issue one way or the other. We haven’t had it,” Cole said.

But the budget’s bottom line is an extra $14 million for 13 four-year colleges, Cole said.

“The effort that was made to for the first time do something that was based on something is, as I said laudable, but the amount of new money that goes into that is not sufficient to really make a change.”

Cole said that in 2006, Montclair State received $50 million from the state, at a time it enrolled 12,000 students. Today it receives $35 million and has 21,000 students, she said.

“So while I’m grateful for the small amount of money that came that way, truly I am, and for the effort behind it, it’s not enough to get where we are going,” Cole said.


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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 michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com