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Audit: W.Va. State OK'd students who failed to pay tuition, room and board

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- During the Spring 2009 semester, 103 students at West Virginia State University attended classes for months without paying tuition.

Fourteen of those students lived in dorms and used meal cards without paying for room and board, according to an audit from the state Legislative Post Audit Division.

Those students account for $217,484 in potential tuition and $44,065 in room and board, according to the report.

The university allowed the students to stay in class until May 1, two months after the final date the school sets for all tuition payments and one week before final examinations. On that date, all 103 students were deleted from the university computer system used to track student admissions, the report states.

None of the affected students or their teachers was told about this action.

"WVSU officials did not inform the students their enrollment had been deleted," the report states.

Teachers would not have known the students were no longer enrolled unless they had requested a class registration list after May 1. Without teachers or students knowing their enrollment statuses, there is no way to know how many of the students were allowed to remain in class or take their final exams.

The university did recoup some of its money though. After the semester 20 students were allowed to pay tuition and receive their grades. The charges were backdated to earlier dates in the semester, according to the report. It is unclear why the remaining students were not permitted to pay their tuition.

State did not delete the room and board charges, but only five students had paid their bills. The remaining fees were sent to collection agencies, the report states.

"(University) personnel stated it was their hope the students would be able to find some type of financial assistance by the end of the semester so they could pay the university and remain in school," the report states.

That is not State's official position on why students were allowed to stay in class so long without paying, said university spokesperson Donna Simon. She said the university does not know why the policies weren't followed at the time.

"Some mechanisms have been put in place to make sure we don't have these types of lapses again," university President Brian Hemphill told legislators.

In the past, the office of student affairs was responsible for student enrollment and enforcing tuition payment policies, said Melvin Jones, vice president for business and finance. Now the school's business department will help oversee and enforce the policies.

Many students at State and all universities rely on financial aid Jones said. Sometimes that aid isn't available right at the start of the semester, so it's common for universities to enroll students who have not paid for tuition if they are able to show documents that prove financial aid is on the way.

"Enrolling students before they are fully paid is not a problem," Jones said. "It's a way of doing business."

State's policy on removing students who have not paid or shown proof they will pay will not change. Jones said the university is confident the additional oversight from the business office will prevent any similar circumstances in the future.

Jones also said the additional oversight will ensure students are informed if they are deleted from the university's enrollment database.

"A university is very large enterprise, and it's very easy for one hand not to know what the other hand is doing," Jones said.

By not forcing the 103 students to leave the class when they did not pay their bills in 2009, State allowed those students to have an unfair advantage over students who followed the rules, in the auditor's opinion.

"Students that paid their tuition, in accordance with school policy, were not afforded the same opportunities to avoid tuition payment or avoid the receipt of failing grades that was available to the 103 students who simply failed to pay their tuition in accordance with policy," the report states.

There are additional outside costs involved with educating or housing any student, the report states. Allowing students to live in a dorm without paying could also prevent students who are paying their bills from finding a room if all university housing is occupied. 

The audit covers July 2008 through June 2009. Auditors only conducted an in-depth review for the Spring 2009 semester, but the report states there is evidence of similar sloppy practices during the Fall 2008 semester.

Jones said he does not know how long the problems happened at State, but is confident they will not continue.

The audit recommends State abide by university collection policies. It's one of 16 recommendations included in the audit, all of which discuss violations of State rules.

Those violations include the university bookstore essentially serving as a check cashing service. Students could present a check that exceeded the amount of their purchase, and the bookstore would provide them cash in the amount of the difference, the report states.

The manager of the bookstore told the auditors he would leave the amount of cash due to students in a store safe until the check cleared. Then the student could come back to the store and receive his or her money.

This goes against university policy and poses a risk for the school to lose money, the report states.

Other audit findings involving the bookstore include failing to collect and send about $12,000 in taxes to the state during the 2009 fiscal year and allowing university administrators, athletic coaches and faculty to inappropriately establish lines of credit at the store.

About $200 missing from a change machine, incorrect assessment of fines and fees and a lack of oversight for faculty and staff housing are also mentioned in the recommendations.

A full copy of the audit is available at dailymail.com.

Auditors met with the university last Wednesday, the same day as Hemphill's state of the university address. A response from State included within the report says the university will or has complied with all of the recommendations.

State has faced a mountain of financial struggles in recent years. Lower enrollment and fundraising figures led to a $3.5 million budget deficit two years ago. That resulted in cuts, a hiring freeze and a no-confidence vote from the faculty that preceded the eventual resignation of former President Hazo Carter.

"I really don't want to try to caste any dispersions on the prior administration, but we have come in and re-examined the kinds of things that are going on," Jones said. "We have made changes.<\!p>.<\!p>.and they provide for better accountability."

Since he was officially hired July 1, Hemphill has said the school is headed in a new direction. The university managed to end the last fiscal year with a $200,000 budget surplus, but Hemphill told the Daily Mail in August further cuts will be necessary this year in order to make ends meet.   Student tuition accounts for about $10 million of the university's annual $50 million budget, Jones said.

Contact writer Dave Boucher at 304-348-4843 or david.boucher@dailymail.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/Dave_Boucher1.

 

 

 


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