Monthly Column November 2015
Corporate Fraud Costs All of Us
The University System of Georgia has declared the week of Nov. 16-22 to be Fraud Awareness Week in order to remind our employees of the system’s commitment to fraud avoidance and ethics compliance. Although there are many different types of institutions even within the USG with varied missions and student demographics, one thing every institution holds in common is our reliance on state funding to help operate on behalf of the State of Georgia. Because we receive funds from state taxpayers and are charged with educating Georgians, we are obligated to be good stewards of the funds we receive, even the tuition and fees paid by our students and the privately donated funds.
We also receive federal funds in the form of financial aid on behalf of our students. The students at Dalton State College rely on federal financial aid and state financial aid (HOPE) to attend college. We would not exist without these funds because our students could not afford to enroll. Again, we have an obligation to make appropriate use of these federal funds in order to ensure that our students may continue to be eligible for financial aid. There are increasingly complex regulations regarding use of state and federal funds and we at Dalton State College are committed to compliance.
Across the country, we have seen examples of fraud, waste, even embezzlement in public colleges and universities. In some cases, it is simply a matter of a careless employee who is not appropriately supervised. In more sinister cases, the employee has made a conscious decision to act inappropriately. These examples may be rare, but they undermine the confidence of the state and federal taxpayer and create concern that public higher education is no longer a worthwhile investment. The University System of Georgia takes its responsibilities to educate students and to manage the state-allocated and consumer-funded resources seriously. Let me say unequivocally that public higher education remains today a very worthy investment for the taxpayers of Georgia and the United States; I will elaborate on that issue in another column.
Several years ago, the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia established a System-level Ethics and Compliance Program which is intended to assist the board, the chancellor, and institutions in their compliance.
To support the system’s efforts, USG employees receive annual training on numerous topics such as workplace ethics, avoidance and understanding of sexual harassment, appropriate use of funds and purchasing cards, as well as travel regulations for state employees. Dalton State College employees have just completed their annual trainings on these and other topics in order to help ensure that everyone is aware of the expectations as well as the obligation to report inappropriate activities. Part of our training is intended to ensure that there is never even an appearance of impropriety.
Another component of the USG’s efforts to ensure appropriate activities and use of funds includes routine audits. I am happy to report that at Dalton State we have diligent employees who ensure that state, federal and Board of Regents policies and laws are followed. In fact, in our budget and finance area, there were no findings or management comments out of the two last full 800 hour state audits (2009 and 2014). For our 400 hour re-accreditation audit in 2011, there were no findings or management comments. For the 80 hour agreed upon procedure audits, there have been no findings or management comments. Actually, Dalton State’s Budget and Finance staff received an award within the past few months for our clean audit reports.
In the financial aid office, one of the most complex areas of any college or university, Dalton State had no monetary findings in its latest USG audit. We had one finding in the HOPE audit that indicated we had disbursed an overpayment to a student. Millions of dollars of financial aid are dispersed every year in Dalton State’s Office of Financial Aid. This single overpayment error resulted in DSC having to repay the state $97.27.
I could continue to cite statistics about the lack of substantive errors, but I hope that is not necessary. Dalton State is YOUR college, and we take that seriously. Please let someone here know if you ever have any concerns about our operations. We are all committed to serving the needs of this state and region to the best of our abilities with the resources and students you entrust with us.