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Death and taxes aren’t the only sure things in New Jersey.
Increasing college tuition costs are pretty much a given, too – especially on Gov. Chris Christie’s watch, according to state Sen. Barbara Buono (D-Middlesex), who is challenging Christie, a Republican, in the Nov. 5 gubernatorial contest.
Rutgers tuition has increased 10 percent since Christie took office because he "cut funding for higher education," Buono told students during a recent stop at the university's New Brunswick campus.
While the cost of an education at Rutgers and other schools in New Jersey has certainly risen in recent years, we were a bit stunned by this Rutgers Law School alumna’s claim: not only has tuition at the state university climbed by less than 10 percent from the time Christie became governor in January 2010 to present, Buono’s putting blame where it doesn’t belong.
Let’s start by reviewing tuition costs for Rutgers since Christie’s been in office.
Tuition for in-state residents at Rutgers was $9,926 for the 2010-2011 academic year -- the first year that a Rutgers budget was crafted during Christie’s tenure as governor. Tuition is $10,718 for the current 2013-2014 academic calendar. That’s an increase of 7.97 percent, not 10 percent.
David Turner, a Buono for Governor spokesman, told us it would be more appropriate to compare tuition and fees from 2009-2010 – before Christie took office – to 2013-2014. So we looked at those numbers, too.
Tuition and fees for 2009-2010 was $11,886, compared with $13,499 for the current academic year. That’s an increase of 13.57 percent, which is in line with Buono’s claim.
But there’s a key difference: Buono specifically referenced a tuition increase so we removed fees from the equation and compared tuition from 2009-2010 ($9,546) with 2013-2014 ($10,718). The difference is an increase of 12.27 percent.
That brings us to another critical point: Buono claims the increase has occurred "since Christie took office."
Turner said Christie's cuts to education had long-reaching effects on students.
"One of the Governor's first major acts was to slash New Jersey's higher education budget by more than $170 million," he said in an e-mail. "By cutting the budget, the costs fell on to students who are now shouldering a 13% increase in tuition at our flagship university. These cuts unfairly place the burden on students and make it harder for them to get the skills they need to compete in the workforce of tomorrow."
Christie in 2010 proposed cutting $173 million from higher education funding as the state faced a variety of deficits at the height of the recession.
But is he solely to blame for tuition hikes at Rutgers? No.
In fact, the governor of New Jersey has nothing to do with setting tuition costs at colleges and universities.
Under state law, the Rutgers Board of Governors sets tuition and determines the rates of tuition for the institution as part of the university’s annual budget, a spokesman told us.
Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak agreed.
"Governors have no role in setting tuition, room/board and various fees at Rutgers," Drewniak explained in an e-mail. "The Board of Governors votes annually to set those rates based on recommendations from the school’s administrators. Surely, the Senator knows this given her vast experience in the legislature."
It’s worth noting that impacts from the recession also were being felt statewide at that time, even in education. The National Bureau of Economic Research defines the recession as lasting from December 2007 to June 2009.
Buono said during a recent visit to Rutgers that the university's tuition has increased 10 percent since Christie took office because he "cut funding for higher education."
When looking strictly at tuition costs, Rutgers tuition has increased 7.97 percent from the 2010-2011 academic year -- the first Rutgers budget done after Christie became governor -- to the current 2013-2014. The increase, however, is 12.27 percent if measured from the year before Christie became governor.
As for blame, state law makes clear that the Rutgers Board of Governors -- not the governor himself -- sets tuition rates for the university. And while it's true that Christie did cut education funding, he doesn't bare the bulk of the blame for the tuition hikes. Many factors were involved.
As a result, we rate this claim Half True.
To comment on this story, go to NJ.com.
NJ.com, Buono outlines plan for increasing funding for education, Sept. 3, 2013, accessed Sept. 4, 2013
E-mail interview with Kevin Roberts, Christie for Governor spokesman, Sept. 4, 2013
E-mail interviews with David Turner, Buono for Governor spokesman, Sept. 4 and 11, 2013
E-mail interview with Steve Manas, Rutgers University spokesman, Sept. 4, 2013
E-mail interviews with Michael Drewniak, Chris Christie spokesman, Sept. 5, 6 and 10, 2013
Rutgers University Estimated Cost of Attendance in Dollars for In-State Residents, accessed Sept. 11 and 12, 2013
State Higher Education Executive Officers Association, accessed Sept. 5, 2013
State Office of the Secretary of Higher Education website, accessed Sept. 5 and 11, 2013
National Bureau of Economic Research website, accessed Sept. 18, 2013
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