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Ashley Martin, Forum Communications , Published March 07 2012

Dickinson State University audit finds more degree problems

DICKINSON, N.D. — Nearly 30 more Dickinson State University international students than originally reported do not have proper documentation and some have none, officials said this week.

An audit released Feb. 10 implicated 743 students of concern, but that number has risen to 771, according to DSU and North Dakota University System officials.

When findings of the audit were released, investigations were ongoing, said Scott Staudinger, DSU coordinator of institutional research and planning.

“Dickinson State, in an attempt to make sure we had captured all of the international students who are affected, needed to go back and do further validation,” he said.

He and Bill Eggert, NDUS director of internal audit and risk assessment, said some students recently added to the list had no files at all.

“We had to create certain files because there was no documentation whatsoever,” Staudinger said. “The files are gone, but we knew that their names are in system.”

Eggert said it’s possible there was documentation at one time.

A possible explanation is some files may have erroneously been put into other students’ files, he said.

All students implicated were enrolled in dual-degree, dual-credit programs where they would earn a degree and/or college credits from DSU and their home country.

Another troubling issue with the students is a lack of articulation agreements between DSU and the Chinese or Russian campus they transferred from, Eggert said.

“That basically states ‘here’s the classes that they have to take,’” he said, adding it’s a breach in the standards for accreditation.

More than 100 agreements should have been on file, but there were less than 30, Eggert said, adding only three or four were valid.

Many of the students were also enrolled in different programs in each country.

“This is a prime example: me being a Spanish major here, and then going to Spain and getting an architectural degree,” Eggert said. “I mean it makes no sense.”

Some were handed degrees after a fraction of the courses needed were taken.

“How do you justify giving a five-year accounting degree after, you know, 30 credits?” Eggert said. “An accounting degree is at least 128 credits.”

Marie Moe, DSU director of university relations, is confident the number of students of concern will stay at 771.

“That has been finalized,” she said.

DSU is also taking steps to address the situation, she added.

Affected students need to have their official transcripts sent from their home institution and from classes they’ve taken in the United States other than at DSU. Then DSU needs a secondary verification from officials in China, Moe said.

Then an evaluation of the courses taken by the students and how they’re equivalent to courses in the United States will be conducted, she said.

“From there, if they’ve completed the 128 credits and requirements for the degree they were pursuing, their degree will be affirmed,” Moe said. “If they are missing credits, then they will be notified of what they need to do to finish their degree at Dickinson State.”

Missing courses and other requirements means their DSU degree is invalid. If those requirements aren’t met, their DSU degree will be removed from their transcript, she said.

“What’s really tricky to us is not to make a blanket statement that these students’ degrees are invalid,” Moe said. “They were awarded without proper documentation and we have to go back and verify all of these degrees. But it doesn’t mean that all of these degrees were invalid.”

Because the students were also working toward a degree through their home institution, those with invalid DSU degrees may have valid degrees in their home country, she said.

The issue may have an effect on enrollment, since DSU is discontinuing the special international programs and will also do their own student recruiting, rather than hiring outside entities, Moe said.

“Any international student that’s coming to DSU will actually go through the traditional process,” she said. “I would anticipate that there would be an impact to enrollment as we take these positive steps and reevaluate the practices used.”