Bill Would Address Transparency Issues Uncovered in State Comptroller Audit
TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senator Shirley K. Turner and Sandra Bolden Cunningham aimed at improving transparency of tuition and fees charged by institutions of higher education cleared the Senate today. The legislation would address transparency issues cited in a 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, and they should know which programs are supported by the fees they pay,” said Senator Turner (D-Hunterdon/Mercer). “This bill requires institutions to report on fees and how they are used. It would also require the development of a shopping sheet by the state that would give families clearer information about the portion of their costs going to tuition and fees, and where the fee money is going. It’s the right thing to do for our students, and I would hope that each institution would utilize the form created under the bill.”
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 legislation that is aimed at creating greater transparency for students, so they see exactly where their money is going,” said Senator Cunningham (D-Hudson). “Getting a degree requires a significant financial investment and colleges should be upfront about the costs associated with attending, including fees paid by students. This will require additional financial controls at institutions and a justification for any increases in student fees. It will also require that institutions of higher education use a shopping sheet to make it easier for students to understand the costs associated with their degree.”
In addition, under the bill, S-2214, the Secretary of Higher Education would be directed to create a shopping sheet which could 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. Under recommendations to the bill included in Governor Christie’s conditional veto, institutions of higher education could utilize the shopping sheet developed by the state or the federal shopping sheet developed by the U.S. Department of Education and the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
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, with the changes recommended by the Governor, cleared the Senate by a vote of 36-0. It goes to the Assembly for consideration, before going back to the governor’s desk.