Missouri state auditor releases higher education reviews

Wednesday, July 28, 2010 | 11:25 a.m. CDT

JEFFERSON CITY — The state Department of Higher Education should have been more involved in picking projects for a college construction program and choosing what to delay when money ran short, according to a review released Wednesday by the state auditor's office.

Auditor Susan Montee urged elected state officials to work closely with the Department of Higher Education to determine what future construction projects would most help Missouri's colleges. Montee's audit also urged state officials to ensure funding is available before allowing future building projects to proceed.

The review found that three priority construction projects for the Higher Education Department were not included in the construction plan but that it did include 16 that were not considered a priority by the school or department.

The audit focused on a 2007 plan that called for the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority to sell assets and transfer $350 million over six years to the state. Of that, more than $300 million was to go for construction at four-year colleges and universities, $24 million was for community colleges and $15 million was for the Missouri Technology Corporation to attract high-tech companies.

The loan authority made an initial $230 million payment in September 2007, but has delayed several payments since then because of the credit crunch and changes in federal laws.

Gov. Jay Nixon, who as attorney general opposed the idea of tapping the student loan provider's assets, in 2009 suspended about a dozen projects because of funding shortages.

In a written response to the audit, the state Office of Administration said the process for selecting the campus construction projects followed Missouri's standard procedure for deciding what higher education building and repair projects to complete. Lawmakers approved a budget and consulted with the Department of Higher Education, lobbyists, constituents and others for information.

The Office of Administration, which is led by a gubernatorial appointee, said it did not have reason to believe funding from the state loan authority would fall short. After payments slowed, the office said Nixon consulted the Department of Higher Education about what projects to delay but that the governor ultimately is responsible for the decision.

A separate audit released Wednesday focused on the Department of Higher Education and the way it coordinates policy at the state's schools. The review recommended the development of new methods to track financial efficiency and a change to state law to allow a state coordinating board to eliminate degree programs at schools.

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