A community college auditing unit should be preserved

December 30, 2013 

The state’s system of community colleges is a tremendous asset and a much-appreciated contributor to local economies. The colleges being solid employers, meeting places, entertainment venues and often the heart of a county or town.

The system has encouraged each college to shape itself to its community and focus on what the local economy needs in terms of trained workers and what local citizens want in terms of education.

To foster that adaptability, each college has its own individual board. And the schools have always been protective of their independence. That’s probably why some colleges would like to eliminate an auditing program that can examine any school’s books. Some legislators may move to do just that.

Bad idea. The aduit’s findings on individual campuses have found problems, most of them innocent, in how money is handled. Sometimes classes were under-attended or instructional hours were over-reported. One school, for example, had to return money because it waived tuition for students in a law enforcement training class.

Do these things constitute major scandal? No, but it’s valuable to have an auditing process in place. The system’s chief financial officer notes, rightly, that the auditing unit provides a deterrent for those who might be careless with procedures.

Some leaders of individual campuses act as if they shouldn’t have to submit to such audits, that the schools could handle it, that audits are cumbersome and a bother. But The N&O reported last month on how some community colleges were enhancing their presidents’ pensions by converting perks into salaries. That would seem to be one pretty good argument for more oversight, not less.

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