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Published March 23, 2012, 04:00 PM

New Audit Finds Money Wasted at Dickinson State

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — An audit made public Friday provided new details of mismanagement at Dickinson State University, weeks after a separate investigation showed the school awarded degrees and certificates to almost 600 Chinese students who didn't qualify for them.

By: Dale Wetzel, Associated Press

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — An audit made public Friday provided new details of mismanagement at Dickinson State University, weeks after a separate investigation showed the school awarded degrees and certificates to almost 600 Chinese students who didn't qualify for them.

The report detailed haphazard policies on charging student tuition and says Dickinson State forgave $2.9 million in tuition charges in one budget year alone. The sum equaled about one-fourth of the southwestern North Dakota school's annual tuition income.

Some students received money from the college's Roughrider Scholarship program even though they didn't have the grades or school workload to qualify, the audit said.

About $350,000 in scholarship money was distributed from July 1, 2009, through June 30, 2011, mostly to athletes and members of the Dickinson State's rodeo team.

Some scholarships went to students who were still in high school and to winners of Christmas card writing contests, the audit said.

Limits on the amount of money students could get were sometimes ignored. One student received $4,000 in aid over two semesters, when scholarship guidelines set a $1,000 limit.

The audit by the North Dakota state auditor's office detailed thousands of dollars in spending on social events, including almost $50,000 on holiday and back-to-school parties for faculty and staff. The school also paid for graduation receptions and breakfasts, football tickets and pregame socials, and a homecoming parade.

The social spending apparently wasn't illegal, but it showed Dickinson State was "not following the principles of proper stewardship of public resources," the audit said.

Spokeswomen for Dickinson State did not respond Friday to requests for comment about the audit. The report itself includes responses from school officials, who did not challenge any of the findings.

Dickinson State's president, D.C. Coston, said in an earlier interview the school would use the audit to improve its procedures. Coston became the university's president in January after his predecessor, Richard McCallum, was fired for allegedly manipulating enrollment figures at the school.

The audit was distributed Friday to members of the Legislature's Audit and Fiscal Review Committee, which is meeting Tuesday in Bismarck to review it.

Dickinson State's campus was rocked last month when a separate audit showed that 442 Chinese students enrolled at the university over nine years received four-year degrees from the school without having to prove they completed required course work.

The college was described as a diploma mill for foreign students. Later checks showed the problem was confined to a single Dickinson State program for "special international students."

A separate, one-semester program that trained Chinese students for work at Disney amusement parks awarded 154 certificates to students, none of whom could show they earned them, the earlier audit said.

Although Dickinson State has separate tuition rates for students from North Dakota and those from elsewhere, nonresidents almost always paid much less than their tuition rate, the audit said. Most tuition breaks were granted by university programs meant to attract international students and promote racial and ethnic diversity.

Rather than have university officials monitor whether students comply with tuition waiver requirements — such as whether they're keeping their grades up, or taking a sufficient number of classes — Dickinson State "could charge a rate it expects to collect, and eliminate such (administrative) costs to the university," it said.

The university also diverted some access fees paid by students who take courses online into a fund to support campus activities, including music, theater and the Badlands Activities Center, a recently constructed stadium where the school's football team plays its games.

Online students ended up paying more than $740,000 over three years to support campus activities they were not likely to see, the audit said. Fees should be charged based on students' expected use of services, it said.

The audit also found the university didn't always solicit bids for consulting service contracts worth $100,000 or more, as the Board of Higher Education requires.

In one case, a "strategic planning" consulting contract for $156,600, plus expenses, was awarded without making a general request for proposals.


Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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