Auditor General faults Penn State for transparency, background checks and tuition costs

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Penn State University is number one in the Big Ten Conference when it comes to tuition costs among public universities.

That was one of the more troubling findings in an audit of the school by Auditor General Eugene DePasquale and released on Thursday.

PSU costs in-state residents more than $20,000 a year. The University of Nebraska, by comparison, has the lowest in-state tuition at just over $8,600.

In the past 30 years, PSU tuition has increased a whopping 535 percent which DePasquale calls outrageous.

The university acknowledges the problem but mostly blames funding cuts by the state legislature for driving tuition costs through the roof. Officials insist they are doing their best to keep costs down.

“The university has done so despite receiving one of the lowest levels of per-student support (ranking no. 47 nationally) of any state in the country, which is the primary driver of tuition cost,” read a statement, in part, released by PSU following DePasquale’s press conference.

“They have a very strong argument on that,” DePasquale said. “But again, it’s adults fighting and who’s getting hurt? The kids.”

The audit didn’t just deal with tuition costs but myriad issues at the university.

Penn State’s Board of Trustees has 36 members. That’s too big, DePasquale said and at least one board member agrees.

“I’ve been tilting at windmills when it comes to governance,” said Anthony Lubrano who attended the press conference in Harrisburg. “This board is far too large.”

Lubrano insists that too many people on the board means too little accountability by individual members and too little engagement and participation. He believes board wrongdoing led to the Joe Paterno firing, acceptance of the Freeh report and subsequent NCAA sanctions. And he believes that wrongdoing has not been fully revealed to the public.

“You end up with just a few people largely making decisions for the Board of Trustees,” Lubrano said. “I am of the opinion that we have that duty. It’s clear we need to ask questions even if those questions make some of us uncomfortable.”

Shockingly, the audit found that the school that was stung mightily by the Sandusky scandal is still not vigilant when it comes to employee background checks.

“They’re still not doing enough to protect students in these campuses, with these camps, many of the students, especially in summer months, take advantage of,” DePasquale said.

DePasquale’s remarks were viewed around the Capitol and not appreciated in all quarters.

“It’s the press conference du jour with a side of grandstanding in order to grab headlines,” said Jennifer Kocher, spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, who is a Penn State graduate and who’s district includes the university.

DePasquale has clearly ruffled feathers and Kocher suggests he’s too fond of dabbling in areas beyond his jurisdiction or authority.

“You have plenty of people whispering in the hallways that AG stands for aspiring governor as opposed to auditor general,” Kocher said.

But DePasquale is undeterred. He strongly called on Penn State and other state-related universities to be bound by the state’s Right to Know law and its ethics act. They do, afterall, get hundreds of millions in state taxpayer money. He also blasted them for pressuring lawmakers to keep them exempt.

“I strongly urge, because I have to watch my mouth and how I say this, all of these institutions to stop lobbying the general assembly against this,” DePasquale said.

In its official response to the auditor general, Penn State said it disagrees that its board size is too large. It also rejects the notion that the university and its employees should fall under the state’s Right to Know Law.

DePasquale said he will audit Sandusky’s Second Mile and a state grant that it received in the fall.

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