Experience Article in View From the Edge Magazine

Serving New Jersey’s senior public institutions of higher education, the New Jersey Association of State Colleges and Universities (NJASCU) is dedicated to advancing and supporting public higher education in the State. NJASCU represents its seven member institutions (see at the bottom of this page) to the executive and legislative branches of state government and the state’s Congressional delegation, and informs the development of new and innovative higher education policies. At the core of its mission is collaboration among member institutions, giving one, unified voice to support and promote New Jersey’s senior public institutions of higher education. “Our member institutions see the value in cooperating and learning from each other to achieve efficiencies and synergies,” says Gene Lepore, Executive Director of NJASCU. “Bringing a diverse group together is not always an easy task when resources are limited, but we’ve learned that we are much stronger as a group and can be more effective in addressing the historic underfunding of public higher education.”

Prior to joining NJASCU, Lepore served as Deputy Executive Director and Director of Budget and Fiscal Analysis for the New Jersey Senate Majority Office. During this time, he worked closely with higher education institutions on the state budget and the state budget process. “Having worked in legislature for fifteen years, I gained a unique perspective of the policymaking process in New Jersey,” shares Lepore. “In this role, I was able to build relationships, not only within the legislature, but also within the executive branch. I was drawn to my current position because of the role higher education plays within society. Higher education is the primary source for economic opportunity, upward social mobility, and ultimately, a fairer and more just society.”

Growing through Change
NJASCU is currently working collaboratively with the Murphy Administration to create innovative ways to expand access and provide opportunities to students in New Jersey. “The COVID-19 pandemic has forced all institutions to rethink traditional educational delivery models and incorporate technology,” says Lepore. “The pandemic has also highlighted the importance of face-to-face education, especially for traditional students entering college. I think this experience will lead to more opportunities for students and faculty. The exposure to new modes of instruction will allow them to take advantage of what they have learned and the new resources at their disposal.”

The impact of the COVID-19 continues to affect higher education, from a reduction in students on campus to rising budget constraints. NJASCU is hoping to minimize the fiscal impacts of this crisis and help maximize relief funding for institutions through its work with state and federal policymakers. “We are working collaboratively to preserve our state appropriations during this very difficult time, but my hope is that the long-term impact on our institutions will be positive,” shares Lepore. “This experience will have given us opportunities to explore new ways to serve students and take advantage of new technologies and strategies that have been developed. In the meantime, our institutions are ready to serve their students, whether remotely or on campus, and have the resources and faculty available to create an advantageous school year.”

With student success being paramount, New Jersey’s state colleges and universities continue to build upon their strategies and gather feedback. “Our institutions will be looking to Edge for cost savings, expertise, cooperative purchasing, technology services, and other opportunities for collaboration,” says Lepore. “Edge’s services and support will allow our member institutions to maximize return on investment and continue advancing forward.”

“Bringing a diverse group together is not always an easy task when resources are limited, but we’ve learned that we are much stronger as a group and can be more
effective in addressing the historic underfunding
of public higher education.”

– Eugene Lepore

Creating New Opportunities

By 2025, the State hopes to have 65 percent of working-age residents with a high-quality credential or degree. “Our institutions have a tremendous economic impact for the State of New Jersey,” says Lepore. “NJASCU will be looking to quantify that impact and further show the value of public investment in higher education.” Colleges and universities help drive economic development by creating a more educated labor market and cultivating innovation and entrepreneurship.

With a continued goal of creating educational and public service opportunities and helping improve the success and sustainability of New Jersey, NJASCU is dedicated to expanding its role as an effective representative and advocate for all member institutions. “I look forward to working with our partner organizations and policymakers to collaborate on budgets and policies that affect our institutions,” says Lepore. “We must show the strength of the State’s higher education institutions to policymakers and the public. Our institutions have a diversity of missions and serve a variety of students within our state. Together, we can ensure that every student entering college—including first-generation students and students from historically underrepresented populations—can take advantage of the resources they need to be successful.”

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NJASCU member institutions