As conversations about the challenges faced by higher education before and after the pandemic permeate the news cycles, I would like to commend the independent colleges and universities of New Jersey for their persistence, resilience, and success. The 14 non-profit public mission Colleges and Universities of the Independent Sector of Higher Education in New Jersey have been implementing innovative solutions to improve the educational outcomes of their students, affordability and accessibility of their institutions, and their financial positions in a rapidly evolving higher ed landscape.
When the pandemic hit, colleges and universities across the nation had to quickly adjust and prepare for unprecedented change that consistently went beyond predictions. Colleges took significant financial hits as in-person classes came to a halt and residence halls and dining operations had to be emptied. Students left their campuses and families requested refunds. Professors pivoted to remote instruction. Universities had to invest in frequent deep cleaning procedures and other measures that allowed for safe social distancing and hybrid instruction. The whole college campus experience had to be reimagined, yet our college and university presidents and their staffs boldly took on the challenge.
As we seem to be coming out of the pandemic, and college life is returning to some semblance of normalcy with in-person learning, on-campus housing and dining halls reopening to full capacity, it’s inspiring to look back and acknowledge both our institutions and our students who, in the last year and a half, have demonstrated themselves to be not only resilient but high achievers in a time like no other.
Our institutions pivoted quickly and effectively, taking measures to deal with the changing dynamics of higher education in New Jersey. They provided online classes, online student services, telehealth services, and even online clubs and activities. They implemented hybrid instruction for most classes, and reorganized spaces to allow for social distancing.
They reallocated funds, made difficult cuts, expanded curriculum offerings, built new buildings, and saw their students through to completion, all while recruiting and admitting students for fall 2021.
Our students — a significant percentage of whom are first-generation college students or from underserved communities — were equally resilient. They quickly adjusted to remote learning, meeting, organizing, and even socializing. They’ve dealt with the many effects of COVID, as well as the economic challenges and racial strife that have gripped our country. Still, they are succeeding. They have graduated, landed internships and job offers, and are contributing to the workforce or are headed to graduate schools.
The bottom line is this: New Jersey’s independent colleges and universities and our students have always excelled in the face of tremendous challenges. Today, we are poised and as prepared as ever to help build the intellectual, economic, social and artistic foundations of the Garden State.
Joseph R. Marbach, Ph.D., president of Georgian Court University, is the incoming board chair of the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of New Jersey (AICUNJ). The organization represents 14 non-profit, public mission institutions across the state.