With state officials citing Seton Hall as an example of what financial transparency should look like, Acting New Jersey Governor Sheila Oliver visited the University on July 30 to sign two bills intended to increase financial transparency and offer a means of recourse for college students throughout the state.
"Through both of these consumer protection laws, we will increase our support for New Jersey residents as they pursue post-secondary education," Oliver said. "We are making it easier for new students to understand the true cost of college so they can make wise choices and minimize the amount of debt they take on in the first place. Once students start paying off their loans and interacting with loan servicers, we will make sure that the state has their back."
The first bill Oliver explained, S2046, establishes important principles of financial transparency so that students "know before they go." It will require institutions of higher education to improve transparency of tuition and fees by providing a financial aid "shopping sheet" to prospective students as part of its financial aid offer.
One key requirement of this law on financial transparency, Oliver said, is that colleges use a model template to present their financial information to students so that they can compare prices on an "apples-to-apples" basis. The shopping sheet will show in a clear format both the total and net costs of college as well as just how much that students and families will have to pay and/or borrow in student loans after all the financial aid offered by the institution is considered.
David Socolow, executive director of the New Jersey Higher Education Student Assistance Authority (HESAA), used the shopping sheet Seton Hall provides to prospective and returning students as an example of how colleges should clearly and accurately indicate their net costs to students.
Oliver added that the law will help students and their families plan wisely and determine the cost of their education and the debt they will accrue, which in turn, will help students plan for and afford other major financial transactions in the future. Supporting access to higher education and financing as well as helping people make better financial decisions contributes to the economic growth of the state overall, she said.
University President Joseph E. Nyre noted that as a first-generation college graduate whose education was made financially possible in part through service to the United States Navy, it was not always easy then to navigate the many aspects of being a student.
"The complexities faced by today's students are much greater," Nyre said. "That's why this historic legislation to improve transparency, advocacy and affordability will serve to lift lives and spirits for generations to come."
He concluded, "Student success will always be our guiding light at Seton Hall."
Axel Esquivel, a senior diplomacy and international relations student at Seton Hall who serves on the Student Advisory Committee for HESAA, emphasized the importance of transparency among universities and students. "When I tell you that transparency in costs is of utmost importance, I am not kidding," Esquivel said. "It is ever so important to understand the true, net costs for families when making a decision about pursuing a higher education and what those choices will mean after graduation."
As a member of the Committee, in addition to other responsibilities, Esquivel collaborates with other college students in the state to help families understand the net cost of college, the differences between grants and loans, need-based and merit-based aid and how to save money early to minimize college debt.
The second bill, S1149, will provide for the appointment of a student loan ombudsman who will report to the Commissioner of Banking and Insurance and serve a wide variety of functions to assist student loan borrowers. Oliver said it will "defend student borrowers with new, strong consumer protections against the harms that some national student loan servicers have caused."
This new law will require these servicers to register with the New Jersey Department of Banking and Insurance, where a new student loan ombudsmen will monitor their activities and step in to defend students when their loan servicer isn't giving them a "fair shake."
"All too often, the lack of fair customer service from these companies has driven borrowers further into debt, delinquency and default instead of offering the help they need to stay on track and pay their loans," Oliver said. "And we have learned that there is a better way to do this from the experience that we've had with home foreclosure crises in this country."
Students and families can learn more about financial aid and loans at Seton Hall as well as find resources by visiting the Office of Financial Aid website.
The bill signing was covered by media throughout the tri-state area: WHYY News, "New Jersey targets growing student debt with new reforms"; WKXW-FM Online, "New Jersey's Latest Plans to Help Students Afford College"; NJTV, "Two new laws will help protect student borrowers"; and NJ Spotlight, "Two New Laws Will Help Protect Student Borrowers".