BCCC tuition debts unpaid

Nearly 768 students failed to pay their fees last fall

Faulty registration blamed

Internal audit shows bill totals more than $250,000

August 22, 2004|By Jason Song | Jason Song,SUN STAFF

Baltimore City Community College failed to collect tuition from more than 700 students who took classes there last school year, school officials acknowledge.

The problem -- in which at least 768 students left unpaid bills during the fall semester totaling more than $250,000 -- was documented in an internal audit done this year and recently obtained by The Sun. Top school officials, who at first denied knowledge of the report, later confirmed its findings.

The officials declined to discuss how the university failed to notice that students had taken classes without paying bills of several hundred dollars each or more.

However, sources said the students fell through the cracks of a faulty registration process in which those wishing to sign up for noncredit courses were enrolled without paying first.

The students were supposed to go to another office to pay for their classes, but there was no system to make sure that happened, the sources said.

The college says it has since managed to collect some of the money and is trying to get the rest.

BCCC has struggled with bookkeeping and collections for years, according to General Assembly audits, and this latest problem has exasperated some state legislators who promise to look hard at the school's finances.

The college "can't function when they turn a blind eye toward freeloaders," said state Sen. David R. Brinkley, a Frederick County Republican who sits on the Budget and Taxation Committee. "You have to do a better job of collecting."

BCCC, which has a student body of about 26,000 full- and part-time students, has been at the center of disputes the past year. The school has the lowest graduation and transfer rate of any Maryland two-year college, according to state records.

The nonprofit Abell Foundation issued a scathing report in May that criticized the college's direction and called for changing the makeup of the board of trustees.

The school's president, Sylvester E. McKay, resigned soon after the report.

The trustees recently appointed Richard M. Turner III, a veteran college administrator who worked at BCCC in the 1970s, to a one-year contract while a permanent president is sought. Turner has promised reforms at the school. He declined comment for this article.

The college's vice president for finance, Judy M. Jaudon, said this month that she was unaware of the school's audit of tuition payments and declined further comment. But last week, school officials reversed course.

"In the fall of 2003, it was discovered that certain non-credit tuition charges were not collected in accordance with the College's standard procedures," Dorothea T. Colvin, the vice president of institutional advancement, said in a statement.

School officials said they have turned over most of those bills to a state agency for collection and that they have corrected the registration system to be sure the problem does not reoccur.

Like many campuses across the state, BCCC is struggling. Its $76 million budget is a small increase over last year's, and the school was forced to cut about 30 positions this year. The school has also been unable to reach a collective bargaining agreement with its labor unions for almost three years.

The unpaid tuition from last fall is part of more than $3 million in uncollected student fees, state records show. BCCC officials say much of the debt dates from the early 1990s, when the school was taken over by the state.

There have been repeated bookkeeping and tuition collection problems at BCCC, according to state documents. A legislative audit in 2002 found that the school failed to forward 29 late accounts totaling about $320,000 to the state's Central Collection Unit.

"I wish this was their only problem and we could just say `oops' and move on," said Del. Frank S. Turner, a Howard County Democrat who is vice chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on education. "But it's not just one problem. It's part of an ongoing kind."

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