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Higher Ed chancellors dispute some of findings of audit earlier this year

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — If changes are to be made to the state’s higher education system, alterations of state code are required from the state Legislature, according to two of West Virginia’s leaders in the system.

In a Joint Standing Committee on Education interim meeting at the capitol last week, Higher Education Policy Commission Chancellor Dr. Paul Hill and West Virginia Council for Community and Technical College Education Chancellor Dr. Sarah Tucker responded to an audit of the system earlier this year, disputing some of its findings.

Christopher Carney’s recent report said tuition raises are approved without hesitation, something both chancellors said wasn’t true.

“We have approved (raises), but only with extensive demonstration about why and how funds were to be used,” Hill said after admitting that tuition had gone up in recent years.

Tucker said the accusation held no water because nobody running the audit was ever present at one of their meetings.

“They never interviewed a single council member. They never attended a single council meeting. And during the course of this audit we had two council meetings that dealt directly with tuition and fees,” she explained. “They never came to the meeting, so they weren’t able to hear what (was discussed); to hear our lively debates.”

The audit also revealed that institutions aren’t being holding colleges and universities accountable for their compact goals, functioning in an advisory capacity only. It suggested that the commission should use budget appropriations as a motivation for higher performance, which Hill said is impossible because the Legislature appropriates the funding.

“You cannot criticize me for not conducting an activity that I have no way of conducting,” Hill argued. “If the budget doesn’t come to my office, I can not use it as a control method on the institutions. This is just rational thinking.”

Hill further suggested that if stronger oversight was indeed what the Legislature wants out of the higher education system, it should change state code for that to happen.

“The report’s findings do illustrate the need for agencies to exercise more, rather than reduce, authority over the institutions,” he said. “If the Legislature agrees with the auditor’s assessment in that regard, this can only be accomplished through the will of the Legislaure and the necessary changes that would make that possible.”

For her part, Tucker said graduation rates, which have been high in recent years, speak louder than arbitrary compact goals.

“To say that we’re not holding institutions accountable because they don’t meet every single subcategory of every single measure on the compact; I think is unfair. Because what I care about is student success. We’re achieving that goal at a very high level.”

The CCTCE took a four percent cut earlier this year and the Legislature never raised them above the new figure, which Tucker said was why tuition didn’t increase.

“You all made a statement to the council that you wanted us to hold tuition and fees down. And so we did,” she said.

The Joint Committee on Education is co-chaired by Del. Paul Espinosa (R-Jefferson) and Sen. Dave Sypolt (R-Preston).

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