NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. - Gov.-elect Christopher J. Christie delivered mostly welcome news to the state's college and university presidents yesterday, pledging to increase funding to higher education over the next four years but warning that aid cuts were possible in the dire budget year ahead.

Christie intends to raise New Jersey's investment in higher education during his first term and stop what he termed an overreliance on tuition and fees to make up for the lack of state support, he said. He referenced former Gov. Thomas H. Kean, who viewed higher education as a dividend-returning investment for the state.

New Jersey must increase the amount state government spends on higher education for the state college and university system to remain competitive with neighboring states, Christie said. However, in the fiscal year that starts July 1, Christie said, he faces an $8 billion budget deficit and can't guarantee that higher education aid won't take a hit.

"I can't give you a flat-out commitment it won't be cut," Christie said. "I hope not to have to do it."

Christie has pledged not to raise taxes in his first year in office. He wil be sworn in Jan. 19.

The governor-elect renewed a campaign pledge to make higher education a priority as he puts together a budget.

The state allocated nearly $2.2 billion to higher education in the current budget, a $43 million increase over the previous year.

But because revenues must match expenditures, Christie's first budget will almost certainly be smaller than the current budget. Midyear cuts to the current budget are continuing because tax collections continue to fall short of projections.

New Jersey spends less on higher education than 47 other states, Christie said. He called that level of funding disgraceful.

Christie promised that yesterday's meeting, which he called, would be the first of regular sessions with the academics. He said he planned to name someone to his administration who would be responsible for maintaining contact with the heads of the state's colleges and universities.

He also told the group that a regulatory review by Lieutenant Gov.-elect Kim Guadagno could rid them of some onerous and costly regulations.

Afterward, Rutgers University president Richard McCormick, who hosted the meeting with the New Jersey Presidents Council, said he was encouraged by what he heard.

"Just as he had consistently during the campaign as a candidate, he made clear his strong support for higher education because of the educational opportunities we provide and our stimulus to the economy," McCormick said. "He gets that."

McCormick refused to speculate on how the university would deal with any higher education cuts imposed in the fiscal year that starts July 1.