From the Desk of the President

“We’re number 1! We’re number 1! . . .” 

This is a popular chant at sporting events, shouted by fans proud of their team’s achievements. However, it can also be a realistic, and well-earned, rallying cry for residents of New Jersey, when it comes to our state’s status as the top ranked state in the nation when it comes to education. In May of 2021, the US News and World Report  reported its findings, and New Jersey earned the top spot, essentially due to its achievements in several critical areas for students in pre-K through grade 12 – – including graduation rates, reading and math test scores and overall preparedness for college. New Jersey residents are, therefore, absolutely entitled to proudly make the claim that, not only are we the “Garden State”, we are also the “Education State.”

While we should be proud of our rating (driven by many factors, including the commitment of our state government officials and the taxpayers who fund our schools), we must also recognize that we have work to do when it comes to post-secondary education. In the same study, New Jersey’s ranking in higher education is less impressive, as the state ranks 27th. While we are among the top 5 states in the key categories of graduation rates and educational attainment (which means that our students get their degrees and are well prepared to start their careers when they graduate), we fall to the bottom of the rankings in “fees and tuition costs” and “retained student debt at graduation” – – in part, due to what appears to be a misunderstanding of the actual net costs per student. Nonetheless, there is, to say the least, room for improvement with respect to both addressing these actual costs and communicating to families and students about the opportunities for meaningful financial aid that can materially reduce their economic burden, while creating life-altering educational experiences – – at a time when there is an unprecedented benefit provided by being ‘close to home’.

The mission of ICUNJ is to support the 14 incredible independent universities and colleges in New Jersey and their 63,000 plus students in addressing these ‘value proposition’ challenges by building and sustaining partnerships with state and federal government officials and the numerous companies – i.e., potential scholarship supporters and employers – that reside in New Jersey. Our collaboration with these two critical stakeholders will improve the college experience and provide critical career opportunities, raise scholarship funds in order to ease the increasing financial stress facing our students and their families, help feed into the pipeline that bolsters the state’s economy and, more generally, enhance the public’s understanding of the exceptional value of independent higher education in the “Education State.”

These independent higher education institutions in New Jersey are unique as they give students choice. Our membership is comprised of a diverse collection of colleges and universities and, as a result, there is a fit for practically every student and every need. Our diversity is evidenced by the size of our schools, as well as their curriculum offerings, student-teacher ratios, and student bodies (our membership includes several Minority Serving Institutions as well), to name a few. Additionally, our schools are surprisingly affordable, as they offer significant financial support.

I am privileged to lead an organization that, for almost 70 years, has been devoted to supporting these vital colleges and universities and working to ensure that the unique learning opportunities that each provides are accessible and affordable. However, the challenges facing these institutions, after such a difficult period in our history, are real and unprecedented. Through collaboration with our trustees, and with critical support from corporate sponsors and legislators, I am confident that we can meet these challenges and provide critical support for the institutions and their uniquely diverse, talented, and committed students.

I encourage you to join me in the important work of supporting independent higher education in New Jersey — for the benefit of our students, our corporations, and our state.

Stephen (Steve) R. Reynolds, Esq.

Independent Colleges and Universities in New Jersey