As the New Jersey business community already knows, one of New Jersey’s key strengths is its well-educated workforce, which has been a driver of economic growth and private sector job creation for generations. As home to many of the finest colleges and universities, the Garden State also is headquarters to many of the world’s top companies— and it has major operations for still more firms based throughout its cities and towns.
But a changing marketplace and global competition has challenged higher education institutions to combine old school fundamentals with innovations designed to address the new world of opportunities and challenges facing today’s graduates and tomorrow’s business leaders. An intense competition for capital investment and students has ensued. New Jersey’s top education leaders are starting to strategize about how to better partner with employers to sync curriculum with real-world opportunities, and to create incentives and programs to attract more companies to the Garden State.
With so many colleges and universities as members, the Commerce and Industry Association of New Jersey (CIANJ) is uniquely positioned to facilitate business/ college partnerships in virtually every business sector in New Jersey. One of CIANJ’s strengths as an organization is the diversity of businesses that make up our membership.
In a recent study by Hart Research Associates, 93 percent of employers surveyed indicated that they “prioritize critical thinking, communication, and complex problem-solving skills over a job candidate’s major field of study when making a hiring decision.” Clearly, New Jersey colleges and universities can take this into account in training our workforce of the future. These skills will remain important, but it is also vital that the curriculum in major fields of study remain dynamic, and continue to be aligned with the future demands of the careers in which they will be employed.
With higher education playing such a vital role in the lives of New Jersey’s citizens, and a significant amount of funding coming from the state, it should be no surprise that our elected officials get involved in higher education policy decisions. In July, CIANJ met with representatives from member colleges and universities at our Paramus office—we also have an office in Trenton— to discuss legislation dealing with higher education in New Jersey.
As a group, we discussed the impact of 19 bills that were introduced earlier this year dealing with tuition freezes, college readiness of incoming freshman and graduation rates. The decisions our legislators make regarding these issues can have a significant impact on our colleges and universities. While it may be tempting to take a one-size-fits-all approach to legislation that affects higher education, the diversity of our higher education system requires a more thoughtful strategy. Each college and university must be allowed to continue to pursue its unique mission, and to develop the curriculum and strategic alliances with businesses that works best for its specific needs.
The world economy is a catalyst for change, and those that invest in education—in lifelong learning—have the best opportunity to come out on the winning end. CIANJ is looking forward to connecting New Jersey colleges and universities with the business community. Together, we believe that we can build a path to prosperity that attracts capital, supports higher education and creates a well-trained workforce for the future. I would call that a win-win proposition.
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