TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senator Shirley K. Turner and Sandra B. Cunningham requiring institutions of higher education to improve transparency of tuition and fee data cleared the full Senate today. The legislation would address transparency issues cited in a recent comptroller report, showing how at least three New Jersey colleges are relying heavily on their mandatory fees. The fees account for a significant portion of the cost of attending the schools, the report said, and are being used for expenses such as employee salaries.
“Paying for college is difficult for many families in New Jersey and it is only right that they know which programs the fees they pay are being used to support,” said Senator Turner (Hunterdon/Mercer). “This bill gives students and parents an idea of just where their money is going, and prevents colleges from doing a bait and switch of telling students one price and later increasing it after the student and their family has already committed. College is a big risk, and these institutions should not be playing a financial game with students’ money. We have some of the best colleges and universities in our state but we have to establish transparency.”
Under the bill, the governing board of a public research university or a State college would be required to develop written policies and procedures that establish a system of internal controls over the development and management of mandatory student fees and ensure that these controls are applied consistently, while also assessing each of the institution’s mandatory student fees individually and document the criteria and justification for any adjustments made to the fees. The bill would also require an establishment of separate funds in the institution’s budget for each individual mandatory student fee to promote transparency of fee revenue and expenditures. Finally, it would have to include in the institution’s description of its mandatory student fees, all uses of fees including salaries.
“This is legislation that looks to establish transparency for the student, so they see exactly where their money is going,” said Senator Cunningham (D-Hudson). “Colleges need to be upfront about the cost of an education at their institution. A degree is invaluable and important, but with that comes a big commitment and investment by students and their families.”
Under the bill, S-2214, the Secretary of Higher Education would be directed to create a shopping sheet which would be utilized by institutions of higher education. The sheet would include certain pieces of information regarding the cost and expected debt that the student can expect to incur in attending that particular institution. The shopping sheet would also include the institutions graduation rate, student retention rate, and student loan default rate.
On April 27, 2016, the State Comptroller released an audit report that looked at the issue of mandatory student fees at three State institutions of higher education: The College of New Jersey (TCNJ), Kean University (Kean) and William Paterson University (WPU). The audit revealed that the mandatory fees charged to full-time undergraduate students by TCNJ, Kean and WPU comprised a significant percentage of the cost of attendance in FY 2012 and FY 2013. It was shown that at all three schools mandatory fees represented approximately one-third of the total amount charged to students. In FY 2013 alone, these three schools collected more than $115 million in mandatory fees. On average, students at the three schools paid between $3,600 and $4,600 in annual mandatory fees.
S-2214 cleared the Senate 38-0 and now heads to the Assembly for further consideration.