Auditor General Report: PASSHE Schools Need Some Improvements

By John Reed
SC Staff Writer

On April 27, Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said the most recent audit of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education indicates a need to see improvement in policies in regards to grievance procedures and notices of non-discrimination required by Title IX, which addresses sexual discrimination and sexual violence on campuses.

“While most people think Title IX is about gender equality in sports, it also deals with a wide range of policies and procedures for preventing sexual discrimination and sexual violence in all aspects of college life,” said DePasquale.

“In general, our audit shows they are on track. However, we did find that the system needs to step up its game to ensure that every campus has consistent policies and procedures in place to adequately address instances of sexual discrimination and sexual violence,” continued DePasquale.

DePasquale also urged officials at all 14 state-owned universities to continue their efforts to keep tuition at an affordable rate. This could include more programs put into moratorium in the future due to the State System recognizing them as outdated and no longer viable options.

“Auditors also found that despite laudable efforts to hold down costs, the State System must look for additional ways to minimize tuition hikes, cut costs, and increase enrollment, especially in a time of stagnant state funding.”

The audit took place over a three-year period from July 1, 2011 to June 20, 2014 and included three findings and seven recommendations. Upon review, the State System agreed with all of the audit’s findings and recommendations.

During the audit, it was discovered that the State System discontinued the practice of conducting Clery Act internal audits in 2013. The Clery Act is a federal statute that requires all colleges and universities that participate in the federal financial aid program to keep and disclose information about crime on or near their campuses, including sexual violence, assaults, and alcohol and drug abuse.

If found in violation of the Clery Act, institutions of higher education can be fined up to $35,000 per infraction, and their ability to participate in federal student financial aid programs can be suspended.

The audit also discovered that the State System has yet to establish PASSHE-wide, uniform procedures to abide by the sexual discrimination and sexual violence portions of Title IX.

“Title IX sexual discrimination and sexual violence policies and procedures are not consistent from university to university and that makes it difficult for the State System to assess whether or not the 14 universities are indeed complying with federal law,” said DePasquale.

To correct these issues, the auditors recommended the following to the State System: immediately reinstitute Clery Act compliance audits; adopt and publish system-wide, uniform grievance procedures for sex discrimination complaints; employ uniform language, consistent with Title IX requirements; and monitor the universities in a consistent, routine manner.

The auditors also found that tuition continues to rise despite the State System’s efforts to manage increased expenses with state funding slowed and student enrollment dropping.

Since 2008-09, the State System has seen state funding sink 17 percent, while employee benefit costs have increased 28 percent.

Since 2010-11, student enrollment has dropped 6 percent.

“Given the issues with state funding, enrollment and benefit cost increases, I am amazed that the State System has been able to hold down tuition increases as much as they have,” said DePasquale.

To help control tuition rates, the audit recommended the following to the State System: evaluate operating costs and personnel expenses to identify areas to obtain additional savings; review academic program offerings and place outdated programs in moratorium and new, high-demand programs are offered; evaluate technological opportunities, such as online classes, to help keep tuition affordable; analyze the effects on tuition revenue levels and enrollment for each of its pricing flexibility pilot programs; and research tuition programs used in other states.

“Clearly, the State System needs the help of the governor and General Assembly to continue to provide quality, affordable higher education in Pennsylvania.”

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