Making college fees more transparent

By Alexis Schulz

A student takes an independent study to obtain a certification and gets charged with a $90 course fee. He isn’t using the college’s equipment or resources and says the additional cost is unjustified, but the institution denies him his certification until he pays up.

This incident is what caused Senator Shirley Turner, NJ-19, and former Rider employee, to sponsor a bill that would make New Jersey public institutions become more transparent when charging fees to students. Turner said her primary concern is to stop “back-door increases in higher education.”

“If you’re going to increase, let the public as well as the students become aware of it and don’t play games about not raising tuition but making up the difference in fees,” she said. “It all comes to the bottom line: The state wins and their families are paying more and, in many cases, they’re all going into deeper debt.”

Turner testified for her bill before the Senate Higher Education Committee on Sept. 29 in Trenton. The bill would place a policy statewide on higher education institutions and specify the costs of fees above the baseline instructional course costs; require documentation for course-related fees; require a procedure for bringing fees to a board for approval; and constitute a time period for approving fees.

At the committee meeting, Senator Robert Singer, NJ-30, praised Turner for sponsoring the bill and said that he believed if New Jersey could increase the number of students that are out of state, it could offset in state student’s tuition costs.

“The cost of education in our public institutions in New Jersey is similar to other states — take out room and board to what the actual cost is — we’re in line with a lot of other states,” he said. “The problem here that you’re talking about is a nationwide problem. It’s not just New Jersey. The problem is that in other states, which we hope to gain, they have a certain percentage of out-of-state students that pay tuition that helps offset some of the costs for instate students.”

Rider’s website gives the costs of fees associated with academics such as student expenses — activities fees, technology fees, distance learning fees and student teaching fees. It also lines out some fees associated with certain disciplines such as applied music — one-hour session fees, 30-minute session fees. There are also student orientation fees and miscellaneous fees explained on the website. This bill would not impact Rider specifically because the bill targets public institutions and course-related fees, which Rider does not charge, according to Kristine Brown, Rider University spokeswoman.

Turner explained that managing fees and making them more transparent to students will help lower their debts and allow them to live better lives.

“Mandatory fees are comprised of a significant portion of student higher education costs and many times I have found that rather than showing a one or two percent increase in tuition, they will begin to assess fees to make up for that revenue,” she said. “It’s a lot like what we do here in the state of New Jersey to say we’re not increasing taxes, but we tack on fees on the lower income people.”

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