State News

May 13, 2013 8:54 AM

Texas A&M Audit Questions Course Fee Documentation

COLLEGE STATION - An audit has found that a majority of the $28 million in course fees collected by Texas A&M's flagship university lacks the proper documentation to justify the charges, although it doesn't allege that any of the money was misspent.

A review of the Texas A&M System audit by The Eagle newspaper of Bryan-College Station showed that Texas A&M University officials in some cases had difficulties showing money from the course fees went where it was intended.

The audit, part of an annual review, covered fiscal year 2012, which ended last Aug. 31. The fees, in addition to tuition, were charged for about 9,300 courses, the newspaper reported Sunday.

According to the audit, each college within the university processed and documented the fees differently and several didn't comply with university policy and, possibly, state law. The colleges were not identified in the report.

Texas A&M officials said even before the audit, they were working on simplifying the process, which the auditors also recommended.

School officials insist that none of the money was misspent, and the audit doesn't suggest that any of it was.

According to the review, about 83 percent of course fees didn't have original approval forms documenting why the fee was created and justifying the amount being charged to students.

"It's just a very complex administrative process," system auditor Cathy Smock told the A&M System Board of Regents at its last meeting. "We struggled to find documentation for some of these fees."

But she said if no documentation exists for a fee, "it's hard to say that's the reason you're using it for."

The $28 million in course fees for fiscal year 2012 accounted for about 7 percent of the university's net tuition and revenue. About $24 million was from 7,200 instructional enhancement fees used for supplies, software and teaching assistants. The remaining fees were charged for distance education, laboratory expenses and field trips.

The smallest fee was $1, which went toward a field trip for a soil science course. The largest was $3,500, which was charged for a special topics in accounting course.

University President R. Bowen Loftin said the majority of course fees go directly to the classroom.

"Most of the expenses are done at the moment," he said. "They're paying a salary, they're paying for consumable materials used in the class or in the laboratory, supplies, too. But there are going to be cases where, if we've accumulated enough capital, we can make a major procurement."

Joe Pettibon, associate vice president for academic services, said university officials aren't aware of any misspent money but have been working on the issue with the A&M System officials.

"The most important thing here from our viewpoint is we want to make sure what we're charging is transparent to students and families," he said.

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