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Legislators want transparency on student fees

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Lawmakers want New Jersey's colleges and universities to be transparent about how they spend and collect mandatory student fees, reviving a similar bill blocked by former Gov. Chris Christie.

The Assembly Higher Education Committee on Thursday approved Assembly Bill 3625 in a 9-0 vote. The bill would require the state’s higher education institutions to provide a breakdown of how much they take in from student fees and how the money is used.

"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 Assemblywoman Pamela Rosen Lampitt, D-6th District, an A3625 sponsor. “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 the bill, a university would have to develop internal controls to document how the fees are used, such as for athletics, salaries or campus facilities. Institutions such as Rutgers University have come under fire for use of mandatory fees to fund the school’s varsity football team.

Any time the school raises a mandatory fee, it will have to document the basis for the increase, as well as the projected revenue and how the school will use the money. And schools would have to establish separate funds in their budgets for each individual mandatory student fee that shows where the money from those funds was spent. 

All of this information has to be easily accessible for students, according to the legislation.

"Students sometimes pay upwards of $2,000 in fees alone each semester on top of tuition that goes up year after year," said Assemblyman Raj Mukherji, D-33rd District, another A3625 sponsor. "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 proposed financial aid shopping sheet, as outlined in the legislation, would be drafted by the New Jersey Secretary of Higher Education and modeled after similar ones used by the U.S. Department of Education and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Prospective students would be able to use the sheet to determine the costs and expected debt they might incur at a particular school, as well as the graduation rate, student retention rate and student loan default rate.

Christie’s 2017 veto was over his concerns the state’s shopping sheet would cause confusion among students, given a federal version of the sheet already exists.

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Daniel J. Munoz

Daniel J. Munoz

Daniel Munoz covers politics and state government for NJBIZ. You can contact him at dmunoz@njbiz.com.

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