Legislation Assembly Democrats Pamela Lampitt, Gary Schaer, and Raj Mukherji sponsored to increase transparency surrounding the collection and use of student fees at New Jersey colleges and universities gained approval from the Assembly Higher Education Committee on Thursday.
The legislation was derived from a 2016 report from the Office of the State Comptroller that examined mandatory student fees at The College of New Jersey, Kean University and William Paterson University.
“Too often, a term bill will just say ‘campus fee’ or ‘school fee’ without any explanation of how the money will be used, and there’s an expectation that students will just pay,” said Lampitt (D-Camden/Burlington). “When many students are taking on unbearable debt in order to pay for higher education, they at least deserve to know how these fees are spent.”
“Student fees often comprise a significant portion of an already exorbitant college price tag,” said Schaer (D-Bergen/Passaic). “Students and their parents deserve to know where their money is going and what the full cost will be before they make one of the biggest decisions of their life.”
The bill (A-3625) would require the governing boards of institutions of higher education and proprietary institutions licensed to offer academic degrees to:
– Develop written policies and procedures that establish a system of internal controls over mandatory student fees and ensure that these controls are applied consistently. The policies would define who is responsible for the assessment or adjustment of the fees and include guidelines for monitoring whether the revenue is used efficiently and for the intended purpose;
– Assess each of the institution’s mandatory student fees individually and document the criteria and justification for any adjustments made to the fees. For each fee, documentation shall include, at a minimum: the fee’s purpose, the criteria used to determine its rate, the projected revenue and the appropriate use of the revenue;
– Establish separate funds in the institution’s budget for each individual mandatory student fee to promote transparency of fee revenue and expenditures;
– Implement accounting procedures that establish a process to accurately identify transactions related to mandatory student fee activity and the expenditures related to each of the mandatory student fees; and
Include in the institution’s description of its mandatory student fees all uses of the fee monies, including salaries.
“Student fees often comprise a significant portion of an already exorbitant college price tag,” said Johnson (D-Bergen). “Students and their parents deserve to know where their money is going and what the full cost will be before they make one of the biggest decisions of their life.”
“Students sometimes pay upwards of $2,000 in fees alone each semester on top of tuition that goes up year after year,” said Mukherji (D-Hudson). “Increasing transparency and accountability, along with the creation of a standardized financial aid shopping sheet, are just a few steps we can take to help students who continue to incur debt in pursuit of their dreams.”
The bill also would require public and independent institutions of higher education and proprietary institutions licensed to offer academic degrees to provide a financial aid “shopping sheet” to each prospective student as part of the institution’s financial aid offer. The model shopping sheet prescribed by the secretary must include information concerning the costs and expected debt that a student can expect to incur in attending that institution. The shopping sheet also must include information about the institution’s graduation rate, student retention rate and student loan default rate.