As New Jersey struggles with a budget that seeks to confront today's fiscal crises, the legislature must also look to strengthen our future economic prospects through strategic investments and support that will allow our state to retain its reputation as a leader in innovation.

Biotech and health care are two sectors where New Jersey has clear strengths and, in many cases, advantages over other regions. Our ability to retain these employers - and attract others who would bring similar high-paying jobs to the state - is linked directly and definitively to New Jersey's investment in higher education, which generates the skilled employees and the research breakthroughs that fuel these lucrative industries.

Proposed cuts to higher education in the 2008-09 state budget do more than stagger colleges and universities still coping with unprecedented cuts in 2006-07; if passed, the budget will impact biotech and health care which, in turn, will hurt the local and state economy.

At Rutgers-Camden, our nursing and physical therapy programs are direct providers of highly skilled health professionals. We supply our region's medical community with nurses, physical therapists, mental health professionals, social workers, and pharmacists at a time when qualified health professionals are becoming more difficult to hire and keep while our communities continue to grow. Our biology program is a critical first step for future physicians.

The Rutgers-Camden Center for Computational and Integrative Biology is a hub for research. Our Rutgers-Camden Technology Campus gives new businesses room to grow - and root - in the area, bringing money and jobs to southern New Jersey.

The proposed collaborative effort among Rutgers, Cooper University Hospital, and the Coriell Institute for Medical Research to develop a research facility in Camden will provide scientists with the research power to create innovations that could be commercialized.

Already, researchers in that program are conducting and publishing research that defines the cutting edge. Rutgers-Camden faculty and student researchers advance knowledge in static resonance; how noise can synchronize the activities of bacteria; and how thyroid hormones may be related to sleep. Most of this work is a collaboration between computer scientists and biologists, a partnership that will be the foundation to make Rutgers-Camden a leading center of biotechnology.

Rutgers' impact in southern New Jersey doesn't stop there. We train future lawyers, policy makers, teachers, accountants, computer scientists, business leaders, and much more - the people who will be our future.

Our education system has already been impacted by budget difficulties. Over three years, New Jersey's colleges and universities have lost $266 million in funding. The proposed 2009 budget provides Rutgers with less than we received 11 years ago. During that same time, the state budget doubled and Rutgers' enrollment grew by 4,000 students.

We're scaling back at the worst possible time. New Jersey needs as many sharp and ready minds as possible to grow our economy and resolve this financial crisis.

The proposed budget risks future revenue resources at a time when New Jersey needs them the most. It also threatens vital public service programs offered by Rutgers-Camden and virtually every college and university. These service programs allow higher education to work as a true partner with our state and host communities to build economic opportunities, support our families, and help every New Jersey citizen to access the training needed for success in the 21st century.

The time to act is now. Tell your local senator or assemblyperson that you value the impact of higher education in your community. Together, we can grow new opportunities in our Garden State.

Michael Palis is interim dean of the Rutgers-Camden Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Contact him at palis@camden.rutgers.edu