New Jersey’s colleges and universities will begin facing greater scrutiny about how they spend money from mandatory student fees, and why they want to enact the fees in the first place, under a measure Acting Gov. Sheila Oliver signed on Tuesday. Additionally, colleges will have to produce financial aid “shopping sheets” to let prospective students easily compare financial aid packages across different schools.
Senate Bill 2046, signed by Oliver on Tuesday, will require universities in the state to provide a formal justification for why they want to raise, enact or continue charging student fees. University leadership will need to document any student fees used to pay for staff salaries, which the audit highlighted as a worrying trend among the three colleges.
Student fees have fallen under controversy in recent years for comprising much larger shares of the increasing costs of attending college—sometimes totaling thousands of dollars for each semester. A 2016 state comptroller’s audit – which looked at The College of New Jersey, Kean University and William Paterson University – found the three schools collected more than $115 million in student fees for the 2013 fiscal year alone.
Under the new law, universities will have to monitor how the fees are spent. The 2016 audit found that in the case of Kean, for example, university leadership was not able to track how it spent money collected from a transportation fee.
In addition, money collected by the fees will have to be kept in their own separate account, rather than letting the fees be put into a collective pot for the university to use.
“By commingling funds and providing only vague mandatory fee descriptions, the schools fail to promote transparency in the use of the monies,” reads the audit.
“Too often, a term will just say ‘campus fee’ or ‘school fee’ without any explanation of how the money will be used,” bill sponsor Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt, D-6th District, said in a Tuesday statement. “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.”
Under S2046, the state’s secretary of higher education will roll out guidelines for the financial-aid shopping sheet. Universities can utilize that model or the ones developed by the U.S. Department of Education and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Shopping sheets will have to include yearly cost of attendance – including tuition, room and board and other fees – state and federal grants and scholarships, student work study programs, different types of federal and state loans, how much students at the school tend to borrow and the percentage of students who have defaulted on their loans.
“Students will be able to better understand the true cost of college, so they can make wise choices and determine the appropriate amount to borrow,” Oliver – who is filling in for Gov. Phil Murphy while he is on a two-week vacation at his home in Italy – said in a statement.