Late audits lead to federal sanctions for public universities
- West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice (R) has promised “heads will roll” after late audit statements regarding the state’s public university system led the U.S. Department of Education to place the schools on “heightened cash monitoring,” which will restrict the system in its ability to receive federal reimbursements, according to Inside Higher Ed.
- The form of sanctions is increasingly common, with 90 public institutions affected as of March of this year. But heightened cash monitoring can add a significant administrative burden and make it more difficult to establish new programs, as they must meet federal approval to determine the schools can manage the new responsibility.
- Public institutions are not as harshly punished with sanctions as private institutions, though it can be an issue for administrators. The type of heightened cash monitoring utilized on private colleges and universities demands schools to submit all documentation about student aid expenses, and several for-profit schools shut down after receiving the sanctions in the past few years because they did not have access to student aid.
A representative for West Virginia’s public university system expressed frustration that the institutions would be bearing the burden of the financial sanctions when, he argued, it was an error committed by state government that led to the audits being late. However, the situation in West Virginia underscores the need for strong communication between public universities and state governments to avoid miscommunication which could lead to serious consequences for schools.
However, for institutions which rely on the federal disbursements to make payroll or offer student services, sanctions such as these could mean leaders are starting the semester off playing a financial shell game, which may impact student reimbursements and, in turn, could lead to some cash-strapped students who rely on student refunds to buy textbooks or cover the cost of living expenses having to drop out.
This is not the only instance of administrative shortcomings leading to serious issues for colleges and universities across the country. Many institutions which find themselves facing sanctions of any kind, whether from the U.S. Department of Education, the NCAA or other entities, are often in these predicaments because of a failure to keep track of student data. And recently, several programs found themselves facing rejected grant applications because of clerical or administrative errors.
The obvious and imperative fix is for institutions to better train individuals in data maintenance, and to ensure such tasks as reporting to national agencies be handled with the greatest scrutiny to ensure accuracy and timeliness. In many cases, the task of preparing these reports is left to lower level clerical staff, but the final versions require thorough examination by a trained data scientist.
- Inside Higher Ed Federal Aid Headaches in West Virginia