Liz McCormick Published

Higher Ed. Agencies Push Back Against Legislative Audit

Sen. Mike Romano, D-Harrison County, on the Senate floor during the 2016 special session.

The two panels that oversee West Virginia’s higher education institutions responded to a performance review from the Legislative Auditor’s office Monday in an interim meeting with the Joint Standing Committee on Education.

The report was first released in January 2016 and calls for significant changes to the way the two organizations are structured, including urging lawmakers to rethink the amount the agencies are funded each year.

The performance review criticizes the Higher Education Policy Commission and the Council for Community and Technical College Education, and says the two agencies aren’t meeting their expectations according to state law.

Legislative auditors say the $3.5 million used to fund the agencies each year is excessive, and the report also suggests the Commission and Council be given less authority overall.

West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission Chancellor Paul Hill says the auditors who wrote the report don’t understand the two agencies.

“We also believe the review presents limited understanding of the structure of the two higher education systems and how the current coordinating function was established by the West Virginia Legislature,” Hill said.

Jessica Kennedy, the Director of Communications and Outreach at the Higher Education Policy Commission, said in an email Tuesday that Monday’s meeting was not the first time lawmakers heard the HEPC’s response to the report. She said the HEPC “responded in writing within days of the auditor’s findings and have addressed the issue in several legislative committee meetings since then.”

Sarah Tucker is the Chancellor of the West Virginia Council for Community and Technical College Education. She argues the report overlooks the most important function her agency performs.

“Every year for the past six years, we’ve increased our number of graduates; every single year. To me, that is the single most important measure of success,” Tucker explained, “and so to say that we’re not holding our institutions accountable, because they don’t meet every single sub-category of every single measure on the compact, I think is unfair, because what I care about is student success.”

The review released by the Legislative Auditor says according to state law, the Commission and Council should be overseeing the budgets of their schools, but in an exchange with Chris Carney, Research Analyst for the Legislative Auditor’s office, Senator Mike Romano points out that might be, because lawmakers are not allowing the Commission and Council to have that power.

Lawmakers did not come to a conclusion during Monday’s meeting, but should they decide to make changes to the structure of either organization, they would need to approve legislation during the 2017 session.

This story was updated on September 20, 2016 to reflect the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission’s response.