By Tom Ballard Opinions Editor
Following a closed session meeting, the College’s Board of Trustees met on Tuesday, Feb. 23, for a public meeting to discuss various topics, including changes to the College’s urban education program and the presentation of the draft of the College’s next five-year strategic plan.
The board unanimously voted to approve a plan that will put into place a five-year Bachelor of Science (BS) and Masters of Arts in Teaching (MAT) program in urban education. As of now, urban education is only an option that can be added onto the elementary and early childhood education major.
“This is a conversion,” Trustee Eleanor V. Horne said. “It does not result in any major changes in faculty or courses.”
According to the resolution, the new program will equip urban education students with a “specific and strong” social justice focus along with including the addition of an English as a Second Language (ESL) certification.
The resolution states that candidates in this program will receive bachelor’s and master’s degrees with the integration of study in urban education along with experience and certification to teach ESL, a section of teaching that the resolution said is to be a “teacher shortage area.”
According to a 2011 report from the Migration Policy Institute — an independent think tank dedicated to the study of the movement of people worldwide — cited in the resolution, New Jersey ranks sixth among states with the highest number of residents who have limited English proficiency.
“While the state of New Jersey likes to boast overall high academic achievement, one needs only to begin to sort the data by county or district to see the huge disparities in resources, school quality and academic achievement,” the resolution said. “For these reasons, a focus on providing high quality teachers in these contexts is needed.”
The resolution also stated that expanding the program to a fifth year is “financially beneficial” to both the College and students.
“A fifth year adds revenue to the College,” the resolution said. “In the case of the urban education program, that revenue includes both on-campus coursework and in some cases, ESL courses taken both as part of the off-site global programs. For the students, they finish with both a master’s degree and an additional certification. Those degrees and qualifications translate into a higher starting salary.”
The urban education program at the College began with just one student in 2009 and now has approximately 70 students, with one to 17 incoming freshmen joining the program for each of the last three years, according to the resolution.
Also unveiled at the meeting was the draft of the College’s Strategic Plan for 2016 through 2021. President R. Barbara Gitenstein, Provost Jacqueline Taylor and psychology Associate Professor Shaun Wiley presented the plan.
The new strategic plan, entitled “TCNJ 2021: Bolder, Better, Brighter,” plans on continuing to transform the College from “a respected regional institution with limited academic offerings” to “a nationally recognized institution with comprehensive academic offerings and students leadership opportunities,” according to the presentation.
The plan, which will try to set the direction that the College will move in during the course of the next five years, has five main priorities. These priorities include attracting and retaining students in a diverse and inclusive environment; enhancing the College’s “Signature Experiences,” which include community engaged learning and global engagement; continuing to promote the College on the national level; building and increasing accessibility to technical and physical infrastructure on campus and achieving an obtainable financial model for the College which includes a goal of increasing enrollment by 500 students overall.
“We determined early on, and I charged the SPARC (Strategic Planning and Resource Committee), consulted them and have been as transparent as possible,” Gitenstein said, discussing how the committee worked with members of the College’s shared governance. “Every single group has been involved in providing a voice to their perspective on the direction of the future.”
According to Wiley, the process of putting together the new strategic plan has been ongoing throughout the past year and the committee has reached out for a diverse group of input for the plan.
“This is the culmination of (about a) year-long endeavor,” Wiley said. “I’m really proud of how inclusive our process was. Over the past year… we’ve spent a lot of time going out to talk with the campus community. Multiple times we’ve gone to Student Government, Faculty Senate and Staff Senate to review certain parts of the Strategic Plan (including the) mission statement, values (and) priorities… this is something that the campus has been broadly involved in.”
Members of the board showed fondness for the plan and said that they look forward to viewing the final proposal.
“It was a wonderful presentation,” Trustee Rosie Hymerling said. “I, as a board member, really appreciate the thought… (and) passion.”
Earlier at the meeting, John Krimmel, an associate professor of criminology and president of the College’s chapter of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), addressed the board with two petitions concerning compensation for professors and adjunct professors at the College. One petition was signed by 326 faculty members while the other was signed by 63 adjunct professors, according to Krimmel.
Krimmel then handed the petitions over to Trustee Jorge A. Caballero, the chairman of the board.
“I understand the issue, but just to level set, as all (of the College’s faculty) are employees of the state, not of the College, and (they) therefore should be negotiating with the state and not the College… but we understand the issue and we appreciate your time,” Caballero said to Krimmel.
According to Gitenstein, budget season in the state for the next fiscal year has begun and there is a chance that the College might see its funding from the state decrease.
“It is the governor’s budget that starts the conversation,” Gitenstein said. “What he has presented, in regards to higher education, is flat funding for institutions. However, we have to look carefully at that budget… (we need to look at) if, in fact, modifications to the medical health benefits plan is accepted. That is supposedly to save $250 million for the state… in other words, if that plan does not go through, there will be a cut (in the College’s funding).”
Gitenstein said that the College has seen a minor increase in Tuition Aid Grant (TAG) funding, a state program that gives financial aid to full-time undergraduate students that have financial hardships, according to the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority (HESAA), which Gitenstein said was “very good news indeed.”
But Gitenstein also said that the College has seen a cut in Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) funding, a program which supplies financial support to students who demonstrate an “educationally and economically disadvantaged background,” according to the Office of the State’s Secretary of Higher Education.
The board also heard an update on campus construction projects that cost at least $1 million. During the update, Trustee Robert A. Altman, secretary of the board, said that there has been recent obstacles that have hindered the building of the new STEM Building.
“Primarily, as I understand it, apparently as we’ve been digging, we’ve come across things we didn’t expect to find and those require additional steps and additional time and additional money,” he said. “Some of the unforeseen things that were in the way… included utilities that we did not expect to find there,” Altman said, also joking that a farm house was found while digging the building’s foundation.
Altman said that construction on campus has been progressing generally well and Campus Town has been successful in filling its commercial and residential spaces. However, he said that maintenance of utilities on campus may cause problems in the future.
“Given the age of our campus and the consultant report we reviewed last year, the likelihood of something bad happening (in terms of maintenance) is higher than (we) would like it to be,” Altman said.
Members of the board also discussed seeking ways to form a more active group of alumni from the College and encouraging them to help fundraise for the school as a whole.
“It’s wonderful to have alumni come together and have a good time,” Horne said. “But there are other things that we need them to do (such as fundraising).”
According to Gitenstein, in compliance with recently passed state legislation, she will be attaching a list of crime statistics to the agendas of the Board of Trustee meetings.
According to the statistics in the report from Nov. 1, 2015, to Jan. 31, 2015, 56 crimes and other emergencies were reported at the College, including 15 thefts and 13 incidences of underage alcohol consumption.
The next Board of Trustees meeting will take place on Tuesday, April 26, and will discuss the issue of tuition at the College, according to Caballero.