Advancing Bill Could Reduce NJ Tech Brain Drain


Joseph_F._Vitale

On June 4, 2012, the N.J. Senate Higher Education Committee approved the Workforce Shortage Loan Redemption Program bill, S1229, which will encourage N.J. college and university graduates to enter fields that, like tech, have labor shortages here.

The bill now heads to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, where its fiscal implications will be considered.

The bill would reward students who choose to enter fields experiencing qualifying labor shortages with 75 percent loan redemptions, delivered over several years, in return for a promise to work for four years in New Jersey.

According to sponsor Sen. Joseph Vitale (D-Middlesex), the bill is aimed at encouraging students to both attend college in N.J. and stay here after they graduate. “It would help to fill vacancies in professions with large workforce shortages by targeting highly qualified recent graduates and matching them with careers in high demand,” he said.

NJTechWeekly.com asked several N.J. colleges and universities about the bill. A Rutgers spokesman said the school had supported it in committee and given oral testimony in that support.

Nariman Farvardin, Stevens Institute of Technology (Hoboken) president, testified at the June 4 meeting on behalf the bill.

Farvardin said that while in 2011 N.J. ranked second in the nation in fourth- and eighth-grade reading scores, fourth in fourth-grade math scores and third in eighth-grade math scores and has a high graduation rate, it ranks “first in the nation in annual net loss of graduating high school seniors to colleges and universities in other states.”

In fact, the state loses 28,000 more highly educated high school seniors than it attracts annually, according to the organization Postsecondary Education Opportunity. Farvardin said it is well known that when students leave their home states for higher education, they often do not return.

Brain drain losses directly affect the state, which loses out on tax revenue, real estate purchases and new company and job creation, he said.

“The legislation is an important step in stopping the brain drain here in New Jersey,” Farvardin said. If approved, N.J. will join other states such as Maine, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Iowa and Nebraska in developing incentives, tax breaks and other innovative methods to stop their brain drain or even achieve brain gain.

According to an article in NJToday.net, the bill would establish a 13-member council including executives at the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (EDA), higher education officials, and the Labor and Workforce Development commissioner, the State Employment and Training Commission chair and nine public members who should represent the business, labor and higher education communities.

Within 15 months of appointment, the council would identify three fields experiencing a shortage of qualified labor in New Jersey and recommend to the governor that they be included in the Workforce Shortage Loan Redemption Program, the article continued.

After the governor’s review and approval of the council’s recommendations, the legislature would have 60 days to disapprove them. The council would also be required to update its recommendations every five years, the NJToday.net article said.

A reading of the bill indicates students would have to sign a contractual agreement specifying their date of required service and the total amount of eligible qualifying loan expenses that would be redeemed in exchange for their staying in-state to fill a workforce need.

“What makes this loan redemption program so different from others that have been proposed is that is doesn’t tie itself to any specific industry or profession but rather allows the council, in concert with the governor and the legislature, flexibility in determining where there is a workforce need in the state,” Vitale noted.

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