Coppin State audit finds problems with tuition, financial aid calculations

Coppin State audit finds problems with tuition, financial aid calculations

By Morgan Eichensehr – Reporter, Baltimore Business Journal

October 1, 2019

A state audit found flaws in Coppin State University's systems for figuring out how much to charge students for tuition and how much financial aid to award them. 

The new audit, from the state Department of Legislative Services, was released Monday. It highlighted several problems with Coppin State's internal systems, including some that could be costing the Baltimore institution thousands of dollars.

Auditors first cited issues with how Coppin State has been determining and verifying whether a student lives in-state or out-of-state, raising concerns that the college could be charging some students the wrong tuition amount. This is a problem the Baltimore institution, along with other several other state institutions, has been cited for before.

Coppin State has historically recorded all students as out-of-state students upon admission, then offered a status change to students who were able to prove with documentation that they lived in Maryland. However, the audit found there was no independent review process in place for verifying whether the documents and residency changes were valid. Auditors explained that accurate determinations of student residency are "critical" because of the potential pricing difference — if just one out-of-state student is mistakenly charged in-state tuition, it could be costing the university more than $3,000 in income per semester. For example, undergraduate tuition and fees totaled $3,737 for Maryland residents in Spring 2018, and $6,811 for out-of-state residents. 

A similar problem was noted in a 2016 Coppin State audit report. The university is not alone in confronting this issue. Auditors have identified student residency verification problems at several other state universities in recent years, including Morgan State University, Towson University and University of Maryland, College Park.

In response to the audit finding, Coppin State said its admissions staff will stop automatically designating all students as out-of-state by fall 2020 to try and decrease the number of residency changes needing to be reviewed. The school said it will also implement a two-level review process for verifying the validity of any future requested residency changes.

The audit also found Coppin State did not have appropriate controls in place for ensuring students were granted appropriate financial aid awards. Auditors noted that independent reviews were not being performed to verify documentation submitted by students applying for financial aid. Manual changes made to aid awards by financial aid personnel at Coppin State were also not sufficiently reviewed, the report said.

Coppin State disagreed with part of the auditors' finding, noting that the university had begun contracting with an approved third-party vendor to complete financial aid application verifications in the 2018-2019 academic year. The auditors said they were dissatisfied, though, with Coppin State's current process of reviewing the reports provided by that vendor.

Additional findings in the audit showed:

*Coppin State has not appropriately accounted for tuition remission, which is a discount granted to college employees and their family     members, when determining financial aid eligibility for certain students. The university agreed to put a system in place to account for tuition remission when calculating aid.

*At least three previous Coppin State employees received termination payments that were not in line with University System of Maryland policies. The school noted it plans to propose a set of policy changes to clarify and enforce USM employee separation rules.

*Coppin State has not adequately protected critical personal data, including names, dates of birth, addresses and social security numbers of more than 120,000 students, stored in one of its databases. The university noted, in response, that it had completed an encryption of that database in October 2018. However, the auditors said the new protective controls were still not sufficient.