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Ryan Johnson, Published July 26 2012

ND higher ed chancellor calls NDSU-UND student fee expenditures 'common practice'

BISMARCK – Many of the issues raised in a scathing audit of how North Dakota State University and the University of North Dakota have spent student fees are simply “common practice” in higher education and not a sign of problems, North Dakota University System Chancellor Hamid Shirvani told a group of legislators Thursday.

Still, he said not all of the performance audit’s red flags should be dismissed and pledged to bring a proposal to the Board of Higher Education within three months that would streamline the fee system at the state’s 11 public institutions, raising accountability and transparency over a growing part of the cost to attend college.

“There are areas and elements in the report that much better judgment should have been exercised,” Shirvani told lawmakers during a meeting of the Legislative Audit and Fiscal Review Committee in Bismarck.

The 82-page report, released Tuesday by the State Auditor’s office, found several examples of “inappropriate” spending by NDSU and UND of some of the millions of dollars they collect through student fees each year, in addition to a general lack of transparency in how this revenue is used. A graduate school application fee covered an $11,000 first-class ticket to India for the dean for a recruiting trip, while UND used a program fee for law school students to offer 12 scholarships as part of the Norwegian law exchange program that added up to $16,200.

During the meeting, UND President Robert Kelley thanked the auditors for their research and pledged to use the report’s recommendations to resolve these issues and clarify campus policies. He said the university will improve its process for documenting travel expenses, require departments to file annual reports on fee cash balances, review all course and program fees over the next year and upgrade administrative staff training about managing student fees.

NDSU President Dean Bresciani said the university is “an exceptionally large and complex organization” and that the majority of the audit’s concerns will be addressed by a change to the tuition model that will eliminate many of the separate program fees that students now pay each semester.