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Published March 27 2012

Dickinson State president addresses problems right away

BISMARCK – An audit presented to North Dakota legislators outlines in great detail Dickinson State University’s problems with inflated grades and questionable tuition waivers, scholarships and spending, but the campus leader who inherited those problems says progress is already being made.

DSU President D.C. Coston told the Legislative Audit and Fiscal Review Committee on Tuesday there already have been a number of changes.

There are new people in nine leader positions, including the registrar, vice president of academic affairs and three department chairs, he said. Also, the enrollment, financial aid and marketing efforts have been reorganized under new leadership.

Coston said other changes are still under discussion to address the university’s numerous problems:

DSU is “taking very seriously” the audit report recommendations related to academic integrity and is working to ensure faculty members are issuing appropriate grades, said Coston, who became president in January after his predecessor was fired over inflated enrollment figures.

There is a task force reviewing tuition, fees and waivers, and the university is studying its spending and whether it’s appropriate, Coston said.

The university also is working to have open communication and shared the results of the latest state audit with the campus community as soon as it was available, Coston said.

Some of the problem areas will be able to be addressed fairly quickly but others will take more time, Coston said. At the request of the chancellor, the university will develop a timeline and provide regular reports on its progress, he said.

Gordy Smith of the State Auditor’s Office also said it’s typical for his office to do a follow-up 18 to 24 months after an audit to see what progress was made to address the recommendations.

He praised Coston’s cooperation with the office throughout the audit and said the university agreed with all of the audit’s recommendations.

Sen. Larry Robinson, D-Valley City, asked Coston what impact he expected the university’s audits to have on enrollment. Coston said it’s hard to know, but he suspects enrollment will decline.

However, there are still a “significant number” of potential students and their parents visiting the campus, he said. Throughout Tuesday’s meeting, legislators discussed what their role should be in addressing higher education problems. Legislators also expressed concerns about whether similar problems exist at the state’s other colleges and universities.

Chancellor Bill Goetz said DSU’s audit will be given to each campus president and time will be spent at this week’s cabinet meeting discussing it. The University System would like to add more internal auditors and a compliance officer, he said.

Rep. Bob Skarphol, R-Tioga, recommended the auditor’s office conduct a performance audit of the University System office in Bismarck.

The legislative Higher Education Committee is set to meet April 17 and 18 in Bismarck to further discuss higher education issues.


Finneman is a multimedia reporter for Forum Communications Co.


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