Morgan State has been lax in tracking student scholarships, contracts and reimbursements, audit finds

Holmes Hall at Morgan State University, one of four HBCUs in Maryland, which is seeking a state settlement to address racial disparities in higher education. Photo credit: Stephreef, Wikimedia Commons.

Morgan State University has channeled scholarship aid for students who have failed to maintain required grade point averages, according to a comprehensive audit. The school also failed to determine whether providers were providing the services appropriately, while students were not always receiving the refunds to which they were entitled.

In addition, the review found that the school had failed to seek Public Works Board approval, as required, for a major security guard contract, opting instead to rely on a series of orders. change to keep an incumbent supplier working.

The findings were among many shortcomings uncovered by the Office of Legislative Audits (OLA), which reviewed the school’s operations from 2017 to 2021.

The findings, which were released to the General Assembly and the public on Tuesday, are described in detail, except for a handful of cybersecurity-related issues that the auditors chose not to make public, citing concerns of security. Some of the accounting and administrative failings noted by the OLA were “repeating” findings from the school’s last audit.

A leading lawmaker said the scope of the report’s findings was “frightening”, and he suggested that lawmakers may not wait for the next scheduled audit to make sure the school responds appropriately. .

In its response to the OLA report, Morgan state officials endorsed some of the findings and disputed others. They said some of the issues raised were the result of staffing shortages triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic and that reforms were imminent.

Among the findings of the auditors:

  • MSU has not ensured that honors students who receive scholarships maintain the required grade point average. “As a result, some awards were overstated or given to ineligible students,” the auditors found. When auditors tested six honor scholarships, they found one student received $27,900, well above the school’s $10,000 maximum annual limit. Two students who had insufficient grade point averages received scholarships totaling $55,400.
  • When students were eligible for tuition reimbursement, MSU did not independently verify that its supplier was delivering goods to them. When auditors tested ten refunds totaling about $42,000, they found three, worth $6,800, that had been charged to the wrong accounts. This issue was reported during the school’s last audit.
  • Morgan State has also not independently verified that student room and board fee adjustments are correctly displayed.
  • The school did not verify that a company hired to provide sign language services actually did so. He assumed that if no student complained, the service was provided. MSU payments to its supplier exceeded the contract by $294,300, auditors found.
  • The school appears to have circumvented the requirement to obtain Public Works Board approval for a major contract for security guard services. “[I]Instead of issuing a single competitive multi-year contract for these services,” the report found that “MSU issued six individual purchase orders totaling $6.5 million, five of which exceeded the $1 million threshold. requiring BPW approval (after six change orders totaling $2.2 million). ).”
  • MSU also won two contracts, totaling $600,000, to renovate a food court area without competitive bidding, and it “failed to adequately oversee” two housekeeping contracts with a vendor totaling 1.3 million bucks.

In their official response to the findings, Morgan state officials pledged to improve their accounting and procurement practices in some cases, while challenging the auditors’ findings in other cases.

The school said the pandemic had caused staffing shortages that made it difficult to follow certain audit procedures. “MSU is currently undertaking a restructuring of the Bursar’s Office to ensure sufficient staffing to enable independent reviews and better adherence to internal procedures and controls,” officials wrote.

In an interview, Senator Clarence Lam (D-Howard), Senate Chairman of the Joint Audit and Evaluation Committee, called the breadth of the OLA’s findings “troubling.” He suggested lawmakers might not be willing to wait for the next regularly scheduled audit in a few years to make sure MSU institutes accounting and procurement reforms.

“It’s all over the place. That’s partly the scary part of it all,” Lam said. “Apparently it’s not just one thing. …It’s actually a lot of things that are quite wide and tall.

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