By Rebecca Panico | Published May 15, 2016
The presidents of the three college that were audited in a recent state Comptroller’s report which assessed student fees testified Thursday at a legislative hearing in Trenton.
Kean University, William Paterson University (WPU) and The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) were named in the audit which asked the three public colleges to create more transparent guidelines for raising student fees.
Assemblywoman Mila Jasey (D-Essex and Morris), who also heads the Assembly Higher Education Committee, called for the hearing following the report in order to grasp a better understanding of the findings and student fees state colleges and universities, she said Thursday.
“It is not just a New Jersey issue — it is very much a national issue — this issue of access and affordability to higher education for as many students [who] choose to go,” she said at the start of the meeting in Trenton.
Kean was the only university that declined to comply with the Comptroller’s suggestion to provide students with clearer justification for fee increases beyond their Board of Trustees bylaws and resolutions. Kean said the resolutions are already clear enough and are compliant with all current statues.
On Monday, Kean’s Trustees voted to increase late fees and the cost to enroll in a tuition payment plan, though the resolution omitted several important facts. Assemblywoman Jasey asked if Kean students were informed that those fees were going to be assessed and what was the time period for them to respond.
“It’s on our registration site,” Vice President Philip Connelly responded. “All the fees come up, including the late fee and when you register, like in the spring for the subsequent fall you’re told. Right now we made it to July 31st they must pay by. And if they don’t, then the late fee would be incurred. ”
Students started registering for fall 2016 classes on April 5. Before a student could register, they were required to agree to a Financial Obligation Agreement, which was new to the registration process.
That agreement does not display the newly established late fees, which were voted on nearly a month later this past Monday. A full list of fall 2016 tuition and fees is not yet available, but will be on or about July 1, according to information on Kean’s website.
Further addressing the issue of transparency, Kean University President Dawood Farahi pointed to annual public tuition hearings that are held on campus with students during his opening remarks in Trenton. A resolution setting tuition and fees is then voted on by the Trustees following the public tuition hearing with students, he said.
“When the students have a particular interest, a very large number show up. In other words, if they want the athletic fee to be increased, the athletes show up. But on the average we get about 60 to a hundred students come up to the hearings for that.”
The last public tuition hearing at Kean was held over summer break on June 24, 2015. An email blast informing students of the hearing was sent out to all students on June 8 last year. The next public hearing will take place on June 23, Kean University spokeswoman Margaret McCorry said after the meeting in an email.
The next Trustees meeting will be on June 27.
McCorry explained that tuition hearings are held in June when “we are most knowledgeable about the final State funding allocation.”
William Paterson University President Kathleen Waldron said public tuition hearings at her university are usually held every April during a club hour, when no classes are taking place, so students have an opportunity to attend. TCNJ held their last public tuition hearing on April 26.
Farahi, much like the two other university presidents who spoke before him, cited a decline in state aid as a difficulty they now face. Still, Farahi said, Kean remains one of the cheapest public universities in the state.
“We try to be as accessible as we can,” he said in his opening remarks. “And I don’t want to bore you with ‘the state has cut their aid to us’ over and over again. That is a factor. It is what it is.”
“We have some innovative programs,” he added. “For instance if you come Friday nights and Saturday nights we can give you up to a 30 or 40 percent discount […] We’ll try to come up with innovate ways of keeping the cost down. And we have, and we’ll continue to do so.”
All three colleges named in the report said they will update their websites to show fee descriptions, as was suggested by the Comptroller’s Office.