HARRISBURG, Dauphin County (WBRE/WYOU) – State leaders say Penn State University has made some progress since the Sandusky scandal, but they add, the school has a long way to go still.
Auditor General Eugene DePasquale released his office’s audit of the university on Thursday. The 115-page audit report, which covers January 2013 through March 2017, has nine findings and 23 recommendations.
“Penn State has made a modicum of progress in restoring the reputation of the commonwealth’s flagship state university,” DePasquale said, noting the 2011 arrest and subsequent conviction of former coach Jerry Sandusky. “Penn State must – first and foremost – do more to improve campus security, particularly for children who participate in programs and events on its campuses.”
Besides campus security, DePasquale pointed out Penn State’s rising tuition. He says tuition has increased 535 percent in 30 years, which is making the school increasingly unaffordable for middle-income Pennsylvanians.
Missing background checks
“One of the more distressing findings in this audit is that years after Jerry Sandusky’s conviction for sexually assaulting young boys, Penn State fails to ensure the university conducts 100 percent of mandated background checks,” DePasquale said.
DePasquale said for academic and sports-related camps held on Penn State campuses that were specifically for children, his auditors found a nearly 8 percent error rate. With this error rate, potentially 57 of the 732 camps held during 2016 had at least one person missing one or more of the legally required clearances.
For other employment background checks, campus-wide, auditors found a slightly better error rate of nearly 4 percent. Still, this error rate could mean that potentially 962 of the 24,382 employees hired in 2016 did not have their required pre-employment background check completed.
“Over the past 30 years, Penn State’s in-state tuition – at $19,347 for the 2016-17 academic year — has increased by a whopping 535 percent,” DePasquale said. “With the exception of 2015-16, resident tuition increased every year — on average about 6.4 percent.
“By comparison, over the past three decades, the price of a gallon of milk increased 48 percent and a new car increased in cost 163 percent. In fact, not even the rising cost of health care could keep pace with Penn State’s tuition growth.”
In a March 2016 U.S News and World Report article, Penn State ranked third on the list of the most-expensive public colleges for in-state students.
Decreasing in-state enrollment
High tuition costs are not the only accessibility challenges for potential in-state students. From 1990 through 2016, at Penn State’s University Park campus, the number of in-state students decreased by 12 percent, while nonresident and international students increased by 95 percent and 310 percent, respectively.
In 1990-91, at the University Park campus Pennsylvania residents comprised 76.5 percent of the campus population. By 2015-16, just 56.2 percent of the campus population was from Pennsylvania. Similarly, when looking at acceptance rates, in 11 of the past 16 years, including the last seven consecutive years, nonresident acceptance rates were higher than that of Pennsylvania residents.
Improving Clery Act compliance
The Clery Act requires all post-secondary institutions that receive funding from federal financial aid programs to prepare an annual report on campus crime, including sexual violence, assaults, hate crimes, weapons offenses, and alcohol and drug abuse.
In November 2016, Penn State was hit with a $2.4 million fine, the largest-ever, after the U.S. Department of Education issued a scathing report identifying 11 Clery Act violations.
Lacking transparency, accountability
Auditors reviewed the extent to which Penn State implemented recommendations from a November 2012 Department of the Auditor General’s special report on governance reform after the child sexual abuse scandal.
“While Penn State has undertaken significant reforms since the Sandusky scandal, it is disappointing that some of the recommendations for improvement have been ignored or contrary action was taken,” DePasquale said.
“Specifically, the General Assembly should cut the size of the board of trustees – not only for Penn State, but for all state-related institutions of higher education,” he said, noting that since that recommendation was made in the special report, the board grew from 32 to 36 members, plus two nonvoting members.
Higher-education experts recommend no more than 12 to 15 members on a college board.
The Penn State University audit report is available online at www.PaAuditor.gov or by clicking here.