State Auditor Hits NDSU, UND For Inappropriate Use And Lax Accounting Of Student Fees
The North Dakota State Auditor’s Office has a report out today about student fees at the state’s two largest universities concluding that university officials have lax accounting standards for the funds, are misusing the funds and are running balances in fund accounts that are inappropriately large.
“We conclude North Dakota State University (NDSU) and the Universityof North Dakota (UND) have inappropriately used fee moneys.Improvements are also needed with the establishment of fees,” reads the auditor’s executive summary. “Improvementsare needed with monitoring cash balances of fee moneys as significantcash balances were identified with certain fees. Due to the cominglingof moneys, there is a lack of accountability and transparency regardingfee moneys being used by NDSU and UND.”
The report contains some rather shocking findings for universities which complain about being chronically underfunded. For instance, earlier this year NDSU President Dean Bresciani said “core academic programs” would be cut at his institution after the State Board of Higher Education refused to approve another tuition increase on top of the 8.8% hike students were hit with the previous year. The tuition increase Bresciani was seeking would have brought an additional $450,000 in revenue to the school, yet several of the funds holding student fees have surplus balances measuring hundreds of thousands of dollars, millions of dollars when the balances are added together.
Obviously, feeds are paid for specific purposes and it wouldn’t be prudent for the university to simply start taking fees paid for one purpose and using them for another (though that’s exactly what is happening, more on that in a moment), but perhaps this is evidence that student fees could be lowered to soften the impact of the big tuition increases students have been hit with? The cost of higher education is outrageous, yet we’re told these schools are underfunded even as higher education officials live on lavish salaries with cushy perks and school funds are bloated with student dollars.
There is something amiss in that.
But it’s not just a big accumulation of funds. It’s how these funds are being used. Some of the funds are being used to pay for international trips for administrators. Other funds are being used for things like iPads and office furnishing for school administrators. And the auditors found it almost impossible to track how funds were used because of lax accounting.
“We are concerned with NDSU’s inability torecognize the importance of properly tracking the revenue of all fee moneys,” wrote the auditor in the fee accountability section. More:
NDSU did commingle revenue received related to certain fees.NDSU stated all revenue and expenditures are tracked in PeopleSoft.We would disagree with this assertion. While all revenue andexpenditures are recorded in PeopleSoft, NDSU is unable to specificallytrack the source of revenue used for certain expenditures.
Keep in mind that this is the same university which presides over the Technology & Research Park, a “center of excellence” funded by the state legislature, where state Senator (and Higher Education Committee member) Tony Grindberg is allowed to double-dip on his salary and expense his country club membership. So should we be surprised that NDSU is using student fees as a sort of slush fund for goodies?
Of course not. And this isn’t just an NDSU problem. UND, also, is not appropriately tracking the use of student fee monies.
These same themes – misuse of funds, lax accounting and evidence of burgeoning fund balances – occur throughout the report whether the topic is athletic fees or technology fees or just plain old mandatory student fees. And, throughout the audit, the responses from the university system dismissing the findings of the auditors exemplify the sort of haughty arrogance we’ve come to expect from the state’s unaccountable university system.
Back on July 9th I wrote about how the release of this audit report had been delayed by weeks because the universities were taking so long to comment. Given the vicious back-and-forth between the auditors and university officials in the report, we see now the reasons for the delays.
The question is, will anything be done about this? From the tone of the responses of the higher education officials they barely acknowledge the presence of a problem in their handling of student fees. And with the state’s higher education system being constitutionally independent from the legislature and the governor, who is going to make them change?
This is why the independence of our higher ed system needs to be ended. These people cannot be trusted to govern themselves.