3 N.J. colleges agree to greater transparency for mandatory student fees

College of New Jersey President Barbara Gitenstein is shown testifying at N.J. Assembly Higher Education Committee hearing. (Phil Gregory for NewsWorks)

College of New Jersey President Barbara Gitenstein is shown testifying at N.J. Assembly Higher Education Committee hearing. (Phil Gregory for NewsWorks)

Three public colleges in New Jersey are making changes in response to an audit by the state comptroller that showed mandatory student fees accounted for a third of the costs to attend those schools.

State Comptroller Phillip Degnan says those fees are a significant cost of attending the College of New Jersey, William Patterson University, and Kean University. “At all three schools mandatory fees represent approximately one-third of the total amount charged to students,” Degnan said. “In fiscal year 2013 alone these three schools collected more than $115 million in mandatory fees.”

The three universities agreed to develop formal polices to update descriptions of the fees they charge and how the money is spent. College of New Jersey president Barbara Gitenstein rejected the comptroller’s recommendation that the revenue from a specific fee be restricted for a particular purpose, because it might not cover the expense and might end up increasing students’ costs. “Had we assessed each fee to fully fund the associated cost center, the increases would have been between 23 and 267 percent,” Gitenstein said. “Instead, each was increased at the level tuition was increased, which was 2 percent.” The colleges say they’re doing what they can to make higher education affordable. William Patterson University President Kathleen Waldron says fees have increased less than 2 percent annually for the past five years. “We really have worked very hard to keep the costs down and to make sure that we are increasing close to CPI,” Waldron said. “We’re very conscious that education is less affordable to so many students.”

Assemblyman Dave Rible says lawmakers may need to address how the fees are being managed.

“Our priority as legislators is we want to keep our children here. We don’t want them going out of state, because what happens when they go out of state, chances are they’re not coming back,” Rible said. “I think we owe at least that affordability shot to keep them here.” Degnan says there will be a follow up within a couple of years to see if the schools are complying with the audit’s recommendations.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.