New Jersey’s latest plans to help students afford college
SOUTH ORANGE – New Jersey added two new consumer-protection laws to its books Tuesday intended to help college students – one making it easier to understand the costs, another helping those who have student loans.
Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, who is currently acting governor while Gov. Phil Murphy is on vacation in Italy, signed the bills into law at Seton Hall University, which has been using an easy-to-read financial aid “shopping sheet” that will soon be required across New Jersey.
“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,” Oliver said.
“We all want our young people to go to college. But we don’t want them to go to college blindly,” said Sen. Sandra Cunningham, D-Hudson.
The college financing worksheet will be required beginning with the financial aid offers that are extended to students beginning college in the fall of 2020. They include clear information on costs, net costs after grants and estimated debt levels that could be incurred.
“At the end of the day, we share a common goal, and that is to have students graduating focused on their futures, rather than how to pay for their pasts,” said Joseph Nyre, who becomes Seton Hall’s president on Thursday.
“It’s too confusing for students these days, and there’s too much for families to worry about. This doesn’t have to be as complicated as it seems,” said Alyssa McCloud, vice president of enrollment management for Seton Hall.
Axel Esquivel agrees. The rising senior at Seton Hall said that when he entered the university, he didn’t have a clear understanding of what it would cost him after the grants that are covering much but not all of the cost. He said 18-year-olds aren’t well-equipped to make those types of decisions.
“We just graduated high school,” Esquivel said. “You know, we had to ask to go to the bathroom two months ago, and then two months later we had to figure out how to pay tens of thousands of dollars.”
The second new law, which takes effect the day before Thanksgiving, requires student loan servicing companies to be licensed and regulated by the state Department of Banking and Insurance and creates a student loan ombudsman in DOBI to help borrowers and monitor complaints.
Its backers say the law will crack down on deceptive practices such as providing flawed information to student borrowers, applying payments in ways that cause unnecessary late fees and harm borrowers’ credit scores or failing to place them in the most advantageous loan repayment plans.
“For too long, 1 million people in New Jersey have been drowning in a broken student loan system,” said Seth Frotman, executive director of the Student Borrower Protection Center and a former student loan ombudsman for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. “For too long, student loan borrowers have been cheated and sidelined by shady business practices that would make the payday industry blush.”
Assemblywoman Mila Jasey, D-Essex, said New Jersey residents have $43 billion in student loans, 90 percent of them through the federal government.
“The premise is a simple one: The protections that borrowers have for other types of debt, like mortgage or auto debt, should also be applied to student debt,” Jasey said.
Assemblyman Gary Schaer, D-Passaic, said student debt in New Jersey is astronomical and that students who work hard just to earn acceptance to academic programs deserve better
“To compound that difficulty of course with misinformation makes it even worse, frustrating and frankly devastating," Schaer said.