By Rebecca Panico | Published April 28, 2016
Kean rejected most recommendations made by the state in an audit that tracked the use of student fees, including suggestions to implement more transparency and internal controls for fee increases.
The state Comptroller’s report, which was released yesterday, tracked services covered by students’ fees at Kean, The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) and William Paterson from 2012 to 2013.
“If students are going to be charged thousands of dollars a year on top of their tuition, they deserve to know how their money is going to be spent,” Acting Comptroller Philip Degnan said in a statement. “Establishing public guidelines would allow students to determine whether mandatory fee revenue is being used efficiently and for its intended purpose.”
An in-state commuter at Kean paid $3,566 in tuition and $1,892 in fees per semester in 2013, according to institutional research from the university. Fees accounted for nearly 35 percent of the overall cost of attending an undergraduate program in that year, or $45.2 million in revenue for the school.
The report suggested that, in addition to Board of Trustee bylaws and resolutions, each school should develop written policies and procedures that establish internal controls over the development and assessment of fees. WPU and TCNJ said they’d comply and create written policies, while Kean did not.
Only WPU provided documentation justifying an increase of its mandatory fees, the report said. At TCNJ, mandatory fees were not assessed on an individual basis; instead fees were increased at the same percentage as tuition in order to balance TCNJ’s budget.
Kean increased one mandatory fee – the Capital Investment fee used for debt, renovation and construction projects not covered by bonds — but did not provide documentation supporting the increase, the report added.
Kean contested most of the findings in their Oct. 16, 2015 response to the report, while TCNJ contested some. WPU said they’d comply with all of the Comptroller’s recommendations.
“Consistent with New Jersey statutes, the New Jersey Administrative Code, and the pronouncements of [Governmental Accounting Standards Board],” Vice President Philip Connelly wrote in response, “Kean University is in full compliance with all accounting and reporting standards as to its policies and procedures on student fees and thus respectfully declines to follow the…recommendation of [the Comptroller’s Office.]”
Connelly explained that the Board of Trustees are an autonomous body and are required to set tuition and fees. Justification for those fees are laid out in Trustees’ resolutions, he added.
The report also found that WPU has separate funds for each fee, while Kean “comingles” five out of nine fees into one fund. TCNJ comingles seven of its fees into four funds. The Comptroller’s Office suggested using WPU’s model to easily identify surpluses and deficits for each fee.
Kean did not not provide proof on paper for photo copier expenditures – though it is required by law – since they store those documents electronically, Connelly said. The Comptroller’s Office labeled those as “unsupported expenditures” that amounted to $43,000.
At Kean, only the University Center fee description explained that it is used for salaries. However, the General Service fee accounts for 70 percent — or $9.2 million — of Kean’s payroll expenditures, the report said.
All schools will update their websites to show fee descriptions and include payroll costs, as was suggested by the Comptroller’s Office.
Kean University spokeswoman Margaret McCorry noted that the Comptroller’s recommendations are merely just that – suggestions. If considered best practices, they should be required by all public colleges in New Jersey, she said.
“Kean University maintains the lowest tuition and fees of any comprehensive four-year university in the State of New Jersey,” she said in a statement. “The [Comptroller’s Office] has made recommendations to Kean and two other public universities in New Jersey. These recommendations – if considered best practice – should be made standard practice for all public colleges and universities in the state.”
A former spokesman for the Comptroller’s Office said the report would be released last December. A new spokesman for the office recently told The Tower that “nobody knows where that December deadline came from.”