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Published February 23 2012

DSU president: New audit shows rest of programs clean

WAHPETON, N.D. – A new audit of Dickinson State University programs turned up no irregularities beyond those unearthed in certain international programs earlier this month, the school’s president said Thursday.

A university system auditor combed through a sampling of 158 student files from across the university. DSU President D.C. Coston said all 158 came out clean.

Coston, appearing before the state Board of Higher Education, said the findings are “further confirmation that the issue with which we’re dealing is isolated” to three international programs skewered in a separate audit released two weeks ago.

A review of those programs found hundreds of students, most of them Chinese, were improperly awarded degrees and certificates even though they did not complete necessary coursework, furnish legitimate transcripts or meet other requirements.

Nearly 600 of those students have already received degrees and certificates that are now in question. Another 38 are awaiting graduation, and 128 are currently enrolled.

Coston said domestic students and the majority of the school’s international students are unaffected. DSU has about 170 international students who are not affiliated with the embattled programs.

He also said the university is moving swiftly to rectify the problems. DSU has severed ties with recruiters in China and Russia who fed students into the programs and will likely discontinue the programs. The university is working with the affected students to determine next steps. It sent some students home this semester because they weren’t proficient enough in English.

The audit stated university processes and controls were “intentionally overridden or ignored” in the troubled programs. The audit does not name a culprit, and Coston said after Thursday’s meeting that he’s still working with the auditor to determine where breakdowns occurred.

“We’re going to be having an in-depth conversation with him (the auditor) and try to ascertain and be certain that we know what happened there.”

North Dakota University System Chancellor Bill Goetz has suggested the problems originated with former DSU president Richard McCallum, who was fired last year for falsely boosting enrollment numbers.

Enrollment in the programs spiked under McCallum, climbing from a few dozen the year before he arrived to more than 500 during his three-year tenure.

Higher ed board members expressed confidence that Coston, who took over as interim president last August and got the job outright in January, is the right man to clean up the mess.

“To use my own phrase, I told him to get after this, and he has gotten after this,” said Grant Shaft, the board president.

The board voted to approve a three-year contract for Coston that pays about $205,000 a year. Shaft said he’ll recommend an extension later this year that would carry Coston through the school’s accreditation process in 2015.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Marino Eccher at (701) 241-5502