Audit says Coppin failed to pursue outstanding debts

Coppin didn't forward overdue accounts to proper agency and allowed delinquent students to register for classes, according to state review

July 06, 2010|By Childs Walker, The Baltimore Sun

Coppin State University failed to follow proper procedure in pursuing overdue tuition payments and allowed students who hadn't paid their bills to continue registering for courses, according to a state audit released Tuesday.

Audits released in 2007 and 2004 raised similar concerns about the university's debt collection.

"It's on the bad side," the chief legislative auditor, Bruce Myers, said of the university's debt collection. "A lot of the state schools do a good job with their receivables. It's particularly troubling that it's still going on after being raised in multiple audits."

In their response to the routine audit, which covered a period between July 2006 and June 2009, Coppin officials said they would forward overdue payments to the collection agency on time and would not permit students to register if they didn't qualify for payment exemptions under university system policy.

A Coppin spokeswoman, Ursula Battle, said historically black universities have "performed the role of transforming lives for minority students who often have limited financial resources."

"There has been a tendency for us to carry students beyond policy boundaries in order to help them achieve a college degree," she said. "Coppin also wasn't managing the student financial process properly: from counseling through to collection. We are now managing the process in accordance with [University System of Maryland] policies and appreciate that increasing available scholarship dollars, not ignoring outstanding student account balances, is in the best interest of both the student and the university."

Battle said Coppin has added a financial adviser and a collections specialist to help oversee the process.

The auditors examined 15 student accounts totaling $123,000 in overdue debt and found that Coppin had never forwarded eight of them to the state's Central Collection Unit as required by university system policy. The other seven accounts were forwarded to the collection agency but were sent between two and 41 months late, the audit says.

The auditors also examined five students who had been allowed to register in 2009 despite outstanding debts. The university could not provide documentation of formal exemptions for any of them, the audit says.

Of the 3,763 students who registered for the spring 2009 semester, 184 carried outstanding account balances from previous semesters, the audit says, with those overdue balances totaling about $223,000.

In addition to the concerns about debt collection, the audit found that Coppin failed to keep adequate documentation of refunds, credit adjustments and tuition waivers given to students.

Coppin also failed to maintain sufficient documentation of students' in-state residency status, the audit says.

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