Once upon a time, New Jersey had a great deal of authority over all the colleges and universities in the state — whether public or private — and the best way to achieve the mission of educating the public and improving society.

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But a lot has changed since that authority was dismantled 20-plus years ago, and a Fairleigh Dickinson University professor says we need it back.

Peter Woolley, founding director of FDU's School of Public and Global Affairs, is pushing for a redo of the state's strategic plan for higher education. According to Woolley, New Jersey's archaic goals aren't in tune with today's higher education environment as are the plans in neighboring states such as New York, Pennsylvania and Maryland.

"A comprehensive strategic plan for New Jersey higher education would include the research universities, would include the state-sponsored colleges, would include community colleges, would include the nonprofit sector and would have to include the for-profit sector," Wooley told New Jersey 101.5.

Woolley said issues in today's higher ed marketplace — which is supported directly and indirectly by taxpayers — include a duplication of missions and tactics between schools, the digital revolution and a "hemorrhaging" of New Jersey Millennials to other states. He said the state's also witnessed an explosion of for-profit institutions since the authority-heavy Department of Higher Education was abolished in the mid-90s.

Unlike other colleges and universities, Woolley said, for-profit schools are less interested in pursuing a public good and more interested in putting money in the pockets of investors.

For-profit institutions are not as popular in New Jersey compared to other states, but they do enroll tens of thousands of students. Woolley noted New Jersey is one of just 13 states whose attorneys general have not joined in a lawsuit against for-profits for questionable businesses practices.

"We're behind in adjusting our sights and our goals," Woolley said. "Taxpayers have a fiduciary responsibility to see that their money is well-invested."

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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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